Here’s a fun fact, Basile was born on November 28th. So, to celebrate his belated birthday, it’s time to share his entire backstory with you!
As a writer, I can’t just write a simple backstory. No. I have to write a 65 page backstory including several developed scenes. Oops. At least it gives me something creative to do while I wait for the next session, and keeps my writing juices flowing.
Eythan woke up earlier than usual.
The house was silent except for the gentle hum of the wood furnace trying to keep out the bitter chill. He rolled onto his side and curled into a ball, burrowing under the thick fleece blanket. Winter mornings in Modelheim were always unbearable until the sun poked over the mountains and warmed up the earth.
A loud snore broke the silence. Eythan peeked out from under the covers to stare at his brothers sharing the bunk bed at the opposite end of the room: Tomas the sleep-talker and Judah the snorer. He could barely see Tomas on the bottom, wrapped in a cocoon of blankets with only the top of his strawberry blond hair poking out. Meanwhile, Judah was practically hanging over the edge of the top bunk, his mouth open and drooling as he let one arm dangle.
Beside them, the door to their room was cracked open – most likely from their mother checking on them periodically in the middle of the night. She had picked up the habit shortly after Eythan’s horns started growing in. He didn’t like to think about how his mom may be a little afraid of him.
Eythan could see the faint glow of light from in the hall seeping in through the crack. This was not unusual. His Dad always woke up before dawn to get ready for the day. He was careful to be as quiet as possible as he cooked breakfast, allowing everyone else to sleep peacefully. Eythan could smell the faint scent of eggs and slightly burnt toast in the kitchen down the hall. He wrinkled his nose. He hated eggs, but his dad made him eat them.
“It’s a good source of protein to help start your day!”
With a huff, Eythan turned over and stared out the frost covered window. Although it was dawn, the canopy of trees that surrounded their home kept them in shadow, just how Eythan preferred it.
He lay in bed for another ten minutes, counting sheep to lull himself back to sleep. When that didn’t work, he sat up in bed and stretched. He slipped out of the room into the hall, careful to avoid the squeaky floorboards.
The house was still dark, except for the lantern sitting on the kitchen table. Eythan trudged in and grabbed a piece of toast from the stove. He scraped off the burnt edges with a knife before slathering it with his mother’s homemade raspberry jam. As he washed the knife off, he noticed some dirty dishes left over from the night before.
Dammit Judah… He always forgot to finish his chores. Sighing, he washed them as well so his brother wouldn’t have to worry about doing it when he woke up.
A gust of wind blew, knocking open the back door and letting in the chill. Eythan shivered as he dried his hands with a towel. No wonder it’s so cold in here… He walked over to close the door and noticed that footsteps were leading down to the Temple of Ioun.
Dad’s already at the temple? Did someone come early for a consultation? Although early visits were uncommon, they weren’t something that his dad hadn’t done before. Curious, Eythan slipped on his snow boots and found his dad’s fur-lined cloak still hanging on the coat rack. He took it and pulled it over his shoulders, the fur insulating him from the breeze. After closing the door behind him, he walked down the snow-covered path to the Temple of Ioun in the valley behind their home.
In the spring the walkway would be framed with flowers and trees, but in the dead of winter there was only a canopy of barren branches decorated with lanterns. They weren’t lit yet, making the path more frightening that it should be.
His father’s long stride was stamped deeply into the snow, leading to the back of the temple. However, there wasn’t a second set of tracks suggesting that he had brought a visitor with him. Eythan hopped from one footprint to another to keep his feet as dry as possible as he continued down.
As he approached, he noticed that the porch hadn’t been swept clean of snow. He walked up to the front door and pulled, noticing that it was still locked. Dad wouldn’t bring someone through the back… With anxiety slowly itching underneath his skin, Eythan quickly made his way around to the back door and saw that it was open. He shook off his snow boots and bowed briefly in reverence before entering.
It was dark inside the temple. None of the candles had been lit yet.
“Dad?” he called out, his voice echoing against the arched ceilings. “Are you in here?”
Eythan went into the small storage room to grab a set of holy matches. He walked into the main sanctuary and began to light the lanterns, murmuring the prayer his father had engrained into his brain. Each one flickered to life with a slight violet hue, casting the room in a magical glow.
A gilded chandelier hung from the ceiling, the candles enchanted to begin glowing at dawn and to burn out at night. The entire room was encased in bookshelves, resembling more of a library than a place of worship. However, it was perfect for those to come and praise the god of knowledge and prophecy. Eythan used to bring Tomas and Judah here at night to read them a story before going to bed. They were too old for that now, but Eythan still liked to read the many texts collected on the shelves.
At the front of the temple was a small altar framed in stained glass windows. When the sun shone through, it would cascade a rainbow of colors onto the altar. In the center with a massive statue of Ioun that nearly reached the ceiling. He was sculpted out of quartz, and decorated with seasonal flowers and fruits. His hands were cupped in front of him, gesturing toward the offering bowl in front of him. It too was made of quartz, where guests could leave what they could afford as a gift.
Lying next to the offering bowl was Eythan’s father.
“Dad!” Eythan shouted as he dropped the matches and ran over. He collapsed to his knees and tried to rouse him. However, his dad was unresponsive and felt like ice. Eythan shrugged off the cloak and draped it over his dad’s body to try and warm him up.
Did he slip and hit his head? Eythan wondered in a panic. He knew the floors sometimes got icy during the winter, but there was no visible trauma or blood suggesting a head wound. Eythan rolled his dad over onto his back and trembled when he saw the blue tint in his lips and the dull glaze in his eyes. He pressed his fingers against his dad’s throat and could just barely feel a pulse.
“In an emergency, stay calm. If someone is unconscious and isn’t breathing, tilt their head and clear out the airways. If their heart has stopped, roll them onto their back and start chest compressions.”
Eythan listened to the years of instruction and leaned his hands against his dad’s sternum, pressing all of his weight down as he began to try and resuscitate him.
“Y-you’ll be okay! You’re gonna be okay!” he said, his voice hitching as he tried to keep his composure. Tears made his vision blurry as he kept count of his compressions. It helped him ignore the empty look in his father’s gaze as his eyes rolled back. “You can’t…you’ll be fine…!”
After a full set, his dad was still unresponsive. Eythan choked back a sob and clenched his fists into his father’s shirt. He could no longer feel his father’s heart beat beneath the fabric. “No…no, Dad…this can’t be happening!” He started another set, his pressure harder and his pace more erratic. “You need to wake up!”
He completed another set, and then another, each time becoming more desperate. Every once in a while he would pause to try and listen for a breath, but his father wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t doing anything except staring back toward the statue that loomed over them.
“Ioun, you can’t…anyone but him!” Eythan screamed, tears streaming down his face. “He doesn’t deserve this! Ioun, save him, please!”
“If you are unable to heal someone, find the next person who can. If you are alone, pray and keep trying your best,” his father advised in his mind.
“Ioun…Mom!” he shouted, his voice cracking. “Judah…Tomas…anybody! Someone please help!” Eythan staggered to his feet and ran to the bell chamber. He yanked on the thick rope hanging from the ceiling, his entire body vibrating as the gong resonated through the temple. He kept screaming, his voice drowned out by the deafening bell. He kept ringing and ringing until eventually he felt someone tug on him from behind. He stumbled back into his mother’s arms as she pulled him away.
All he could hear was ringing. All he could see were blurs of color. The front doors had been broken open, and several men – both locals and visiting adventurers – were crowded around his dad. They were casting spells and feeding him berries, trying to revive him. His mom shrouded him in a blanket and guided him out the back door, half carrying him. Eythan barely felt the chill of the morning on his skin and his tears freezing against his cheeks as she shuffled him back inside the house.
He slumped down in front of the fireplace in the living room to thaw. Tomas and Judah were then ushered into the room and told to sit and wait. Scared, they huddled up close to Eythan, who tried to dry his tears and look strong. But he couldn’t stop himself from sobbing. He bent forward on his knees, pressing his forehead into the floor and squeezing his eyes shut.
Then he started to wail.
Please, Ioun, don’t let him die…
The medics were unable to revive Levi Addler, and he was pronounced dead a few hours later. The temple was closed to the public for the day, and the Addler family stayed at home to grieve. Citizens of Modelheim kept their lanterns on throughout the night, and left flowers and gifts in front of the temple in his memory.
Two days later, a public funeral was held at the cemetery. Everyone went to the service to mourn the loss of their cleric.
Eythan was allowed to attend only if he wore his cloak and kept the hood up.
That night, he sat alone in the dark with his back pressed into the corner of the living room. His brothers were already in bed, but Eythan couldn’t sleep. How could he? His dreams were filled with visions of his father’s vacant eyes and whispers that it was his fault that he died.
He had done exactly what his father has trained him to do: he had performed all of the necessary procedures, called to others for help when he had reached his limit, and prayed to Ioun all night for a miracle.
Yet it didn’t change anything.
He was your cleric…your loyal follower. He’s the last person who should have ever… Tears welled up in Eythan’s eyes, and he rubbed them away furiously. He hated that he couldn’t stop crying. He hated that he felt so powerless to do anything. He hated Ioun for failing him.
He looked up to see Tomas standing in the doorway, his blanket wrapped around him and his stuffed rabbit hanging from his hand. Although Judah had convinced him that they were too old for toys long ago, Eythan knew that he still brought it out whenever he was upset.
“You should be in bed,” Eythan said, his voice cracking.
“You should, too.”
Eythan nodded and beckoned for Tomas to come over. His youngest brother walked over and sat down, leaning up against him. He wrapped his blanket around the both of them and hugged his rabbit.
“I can’t sleep,” Tomas whispered. He buried his head into Eythan’s shoulder and sniffled.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” Eythan held him closer and rested his chin on his brother’s head silently as he cried. They sat together for a few hours, fighting the need to sleep so they didn’t feel alone in their nightmares.
A knock on the door startled Eythan out of his dozing. His eyesight adjusted quickly in the dark as he tried to get to his feet, but he was weighed down by Tomas, who had been able to fall asleep comfortably. He heard his mother’s quiet footsteps rush down the hall and imagined her peeking through the eyehole in the door to see who was visiting in the middle of the night.
“Chancellor Krause,” his mother started, her voice raspy. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m sorry for coming so late, but the mortician’s tests have just come back, and I wanted to talk to you right away. May I come in?”
“Yes, please, come this way. If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay quiet. The boys are having a hard time sleeping since…”
“I completely understand, Dahlia.”
The two of them walked past the living room and into the kitchen. Eythan caught sight of his mother and the chancellor as they passed. She looked ragged; her face puffy from crying and her hair a tangled mess. The chancellor, however, looked like he was always prepared for business. His hair was nearly combed and he wore his official uniform. The gold accents on his jacket flickered as his mother lit up a lantern.
Although the house had grown uncomfortably quiet with his father’s absence, their hushed tones were easily drowned out by the white noise of the furnace. Eythan shuffled over, dragging Tomas carefully with him as he leaned against the wall to listen closer.
“You’re husband passed due to respiratory and muscle failure…unknown substance in your husband’s system…could have been contracted through the air, or ingested, or absorbed…” Krause explained softly.
Eythan strained to listen closer. He could barely hear Krause, but was certain that he heard the word “poison” whisper past his lips and hang heavy in the air. It would explain why everything he had done didn’t save his father. He would have needed an antidote or a miracle.
“I know this is hard to talk about right now…” Krause said more clearly, “but I have to rule out any foul play in this tragedy. Do you know of anyone that may have wanted to harm your husband?”
“No! Why would anyone –” his mother started. “He was loved by everyone. I couldn’t imagine anyone who would want to hurt him.”
“You haven’t noticed any suspicious activity near or around the temple?”
“No, of course not.”
“Or in the home?” There was another pause as his mother didn’t reply. “I would like to talk to your sons and ask them about what they recall of the last few days. They’re bright boys. They may have noticed something while at school or at the temple.”
“Yes, of course. You can come by tomorrow afternoon. Thank you.”
“We will get to the bottom of this.” With that, Chancellor Krause stood up and left, leaving his mother sitting alone at the table. Eythan looked up and saw Judah in the shadows, standing with his back up against the hallway to eavesdrop without being seen; and although it was dark in the hall, Eythan could make out the worried expression on his brother’s face.
He shared the same sentiment.
Eythan sat at the kitchen table, bouncing his legs up and down anxiously as he waited for Chancellor Krause to arrive. As he was the oldest son, he would be interviewed first. His mother had spent time that morning styling his hair to try and hide the two black horns that were now too long to ignore. She eventually gave up and had him wear a knit hat.
Other than that, he was dressed in a clean white dress-shirt and his best pants. It was to put on a good impression for Krause. Apparently his mother believed that the uneasy feeling people felt around him may be thwarted with nice clothes.
Eythan jumped in his seat when he heard the knock on the door; the same rapid four knocks he had hear the night before. His mother gave him a smile and nodded her head, reassuring him that everything is fine. He dug the heels of his hands against his eyes to try and rub away the dark circles from a long night of no sleep. Then, he let out a deep breath and prepared to dive back into his nightmares.
Chancellor Krause was in the same uniform that he was wearing the previous night. Eythan wondered briefly if he ever changed into more comfortable clothes. Now in the light, he could see that Krause he looked young for his position. However, looks were deceiving, and Eythan knew that the chancellor had years of experience.
“Good morning, sir,” Eythan said as he held out his hand.
“Good morning, Eythan,” he said as he sat down across from him. He didn’t accept the handshake. “Did you rest well last night?”
“No, but I’ve always been a light sleeper.”
His mother frowned over Krause’s shoulder, and Eythan knew that she didn’t like his answer. “Don’t give him a reason to pry,” he imagined her thinking. She was always so paranoid that someone would learn the truth. He furrowed his brow in response.
“Dahlia, if you don’t mind, I would like to continue with Eythan alone.”
“Of course,” she said stiffly. “If you need anything, I’ll be in the other room.”
All of the comfort of his mother’s presence vanished. Now he was alone to trudge through the gory details of his father’s death. He steeled himself for the interrogation.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” Krause said with a frown. “I can’t imagine the pain that your family is going through. Your father was a wonderful man.”
“We all miss him a lot.”
The chancellor opened up his notebook. “Were you close to your father?”
Eythan nodded. “I spent every day with him in the temple. He was teaching me the ways of being a Cleric for Ioun.” Although it was never explicitly said, Eythan was certain his father was preparing him to follow in his footsteps.
He never expected it would come so soon.
“I see.” The chancellor smiled, and Eythan could see a gold tooth glisten. “What sorts of things did he teach you?”
“I mostly helped him sanctify the temple, and he would make me practice the proper prayers and rituals. Dad had just finished teaching me how to do basic healing and was about to start teaching me the potions and salves in his books.”
“How long have you been training as a cleric?”
“About four years ago. It was shortly after I became too sick to go to school.” It was a well-practiced lie. It was the only way to explain why the adopted son of Levi and Dahlia suddenly stopped being out in public.
“How is your illness, by the way? I do believe I saw you at the funeral,” Krause pressed, jotting down Eythan’s answers into his notebook. Eythan hated how much he was writing.
“Dad was working on a cure before he…” His voice broke. He took a breath. “I’ll probably be too sick to ever go outdoors again.”
Chancellor Krause nodded solemnly. “I understand. So, you spend most of your time in the house or in the temple. How quickly can you get from one place to another?”
Eythan narrowed his eyes slightly. “That’s a strange question.”
The chancellor smiled. “I’m sorry, let me rephrase. You were the first on the scene to find your father, correct? How long did it take you to get from your house to the temple?”
“I’m not sure, I wasn’t exactly paying attention. If I knew he was in trouble and was running, I could be there is under a minute –”
“You didn’t know he was there?”
“I had a hunch. Dad always goes…” he paused and took a shaky breath. “He always went to the temple at dawn to prepare for the day. When he wasn’t in the house I assumed he went there early.”
“So, it’s typical for your father to be up that early…” Krause made a note in his journal and nodded. “Okay. Let’s walk through that morning. Tell me everything you can remember.” Eythan shuddered and nodded, explaining that horrific morning in as much detail as possible, from how he woke up earlier than normal, to how he followed – literally – in his father’s footsteps, to what he did when he found his dad in the temple. He had to pause a few times to rub his eyes or clear his throat.
Chancellor Krause was silent through the entire tale, carefully keeping track of all details. Once Eythan was finished, he apologized for making him go through the ordeal again.
“I hope you understand why I asked you to do such a difficult task.”
“I have one last question before we wrap up. Have you noticed anything suspicious near the house or temple? Any strangers that gave you an…uncomfortable feeling?”
Eythan shook his head. “Dad is…was the type of person who would invite anyone to the temple if they needed assistance. But he wouldn’t let someone in the house that he didn’t trust.”
“Thank you so much for your cooperation, Eythan. Everything you’ve shared will be helpful for the investigation.”
“Yeah, of course. So, is this going to help you know who poisoned my dad?”
Krause raised his eyebrows. “What makes you believe your father was poisoned?”
“I was up the night you came to visit Mom and heard you mention that he had an allergic reaction from poison. You think he could have been murdered, since you’re asking about suspicious people around the temple, right?”
“Murder is certainly something we can’t rule out,” Krause said carefully as he closed his notebook. “I would like to talk to your brothers to see what they have to say. Can you go summon one for me?”
Eythan nodded and stood up, bowing his head to the chancellor before walking back into his bedroom where his family was waiting. Tomas was hunched over writing in his journal, and Judah was pacing back and forth.
“So?” Dahlia asked as he entered.
“He wants to talk to Judah and Tomas.”
“I’ll go first,” Judah said, pushing past Eythan quickly. “I’m older.”
“By ten minutes,” Tomas said indignantly. Even when in a state of grief, he had to defend his age.
Eythan sat down on the bed next to his mother and leaned on his knees, resting his head in his hands. He bit his lip as tears fell. Dahlia rubbed her son’s back as they listened to Judah introduce himself.
Eythan picked at the scrambled eggs on his plate. He scooped some up on his fork and forced himself to eat it. Dad would have wanted me to eat them, so I’ll eat them.
His brothers followed suit quietly, with only the clinking of metal to break the silence. Their mother stood at the stove, scrambling eggs tiredly for herself.
There was loud banging on the front door, causing them all to jump.
“I’ll get it,” Judah said as he stood up and went to the door. He returned shortly after with Chancellor Krause and three guards in tow.
“What’s going on?” Dahlia asked as the four men entered her home.
“We are here to arrest Eythan Addler for the murder of Levi Addler,” Krause said firmly as he looked at Eythan.
Eythan stared in shock at his mother and then at the chancellor. “What?”
“What is the meaning of this?!” Dahlia gasped, nearly dropping the skillet onto the floor.
The two guards approached Eythan, and he jumped up from his seat. He wanted to run, but running would only make him look guiltier, so he stood his ground.
“There’s been a mistake,” he said firmly, trying to steel his nerves. “I would never hurt my dad.”
“You have the right to remain silent,” one guard said as he reached for Eythan. He shrugged away and glared.
“I have no reason to stay silent! I’m innocent!”
“My children have nothing to do with this!” His mother’s voice was vicious as she approached Krause, and Eythan fought back a small smile. She did care about him, even if she was afraid of him.
“We have evidence to believe that isn’t true,” the leader said calmly. His eyes moved up to lock on Eythan’s horns.
All of the blood drained from Eythan’s face as he realized that he wasn’t wearing a cloak or hat to cover himself. In that moment he understood that he would be arrested not because they believed he was the murderer, but because of his bloodline. They would try to pin the crime on him to kill two birds with one stone.
“There may come a time where others may fear you. Do not let them bring you down. Stay strong and stand proud, for you are an Addler.”
Eythan closed his eyes as he heard his father whispering in his memory. Two of the guards wrap manacles around his wrists. They roughly pulled him out of the kitchen. Tomas cried out for him and was restrained by the third guard, while his mother demanded that Krause let him go.
Everything will be okay, Tomas, Eythan thought silently to himself, wishing that his brother would somehow hear him and feel at ease. We’ll figure this out, I promise.
As they dragged him past, Eythan saw how none of the guards seemed to be concerned about Judah, who hung back and kept his gaze lowered.
“Judah,” he said, and his brother flinched. But he didn’t look up to watch the guards take Eythan out of the house and into the streets, where bystanders were already gathering to gawk as the son of their beloved Cleric to Ioun was dragged to the prison.
The first night alone in the jail was difficult to say the least. Eythan couldn’t sleep, and was up all night shivering as his empty cell froze overnight. He wept to himself and prayed to Ioun for strength and guidance, but didn’t feel a sense of relief wash over him. He didn’t hear a comforting whisper in the wind. Ioun was silent, like always.
The next night was easier, as one guard felt pity for him and provided him with a blanket. While it was thin and made of itchy burlap, he appreciated the gesture and began to pray to Pelor for help.
The next night, he prayed to Heironious, but he didn’t respond either.
On the third day after his arrest, he was taken to trial. He was brought into the center of town to stand and defend himself in front of his peers. They circled around and stared, their eyes boring into his back as the Head of Modelheim’s City Council stood up on a pedestal to address the town. Eythan bent his head down and squinted, his eyes sensitive to the bright light after days in the cellars.
“We have gathered here today to determine whether or not Eythan Addler is guilty of the murder of Levi Addler based only on facts and evidence,” the Council Leader started, his eyes sweeping over the town. “We will begin today with the prosecution. Those who wish to provide evidence against Eythan may now step forward.”
Eythan held his breath. He watched as the chancellor came up on the podium, and quietly thanked Ioun that no others moved forward. Why would they? No one else had ever had the chance to get to know him.
“Chancellor Krause, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth under the watch and judgment of our almighty ruler, Ioumungand the Frigid Death?”
“The please proceed with your case.”
“Your honor, I had the chance to interview the Addler family the day after their father’s funeral and I have gathered incriminating evidence pointing to Eythan’s guilt.” Krause opened up his notebook and flipped a few pages. “First, I learned that he was very close to his father and was being trained as a Cleric of Ioun to take his place. I believe that this could have been his motive for murder. As the eldest son, he would have become the head of household and would become the official cleric of Modelheim.”
Eythan fought back a smile. Although he knew that he lacked an alibi, he felt more confident hearing the flimsy motive Krause had devised.
“Second, Eythan was the one to find his father collapsed in the temple.” Krause ran his finger along the edge of his notes. “While it was common for his father to be up at dawn, it was not common for the rest of the family to be up so early. Eythan had stated that he hadn’t been sleeping well and woke up early that morning. I find it highly convenient that he happened to be awake early on the day that his father was in danger.”
Eythan stared at Krause warily. Convenient? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
“Third, he explained that he could reach the temple within a minute if he ran. Considering the time of day, Eythan would have had plenty of time to follow his father into the temple, kill him, and rush back home without being seen. This would allow for him to return later to find his father, have the alibi that he was asleep, and pretend to be a hero.” He paused and smiled. “As a side note, he mentioned that he had literally walked in his father’s footsteps when he went to the temple. He said it was to keep his feet dry. I think it was to avoid having his foot prints left behind as evidence.”
Eythan bristled and clenched his fist. He’s twisting everything around to make it look like I killed Dad!
“However, the most incriminating detail is that Eythan had knowledge that his father had been killed by a reaction to poison, which was never mentioned in his vicinity.”
“You’re lying!” Eythan shouted, his frustration finally boiling over. “I heard you say it was poison when you visited my mom after the funeral!”
“That information was strictly confidential and was never brought up in conversation.” Krause turned to face the crowd. “So I dare ask how else this boy could know this detail unless he was the murderer.”
“That’s not possible…I swear to Ioun I heard you!” Eythan shook his head, feeling the crowd’s restlessness surrounding him. How can he get away with lying under Ioun’s watch? He turned and looked over to his mother, seeing that she was shaking her head with a terrified look in her eyes. “Mom! Tell them that he told you it was poison…tell them!”
Dahlia bit her lip and hugged Tomas closer to her, as if using him as a shield to hide from her eldest son. “Chancellor Krause never…how would Eythan…?”
Eythan nearly stumbled off the podium as he clearly heard his mother’s voice in his head. How can I hear her when she’s not –
“There is one last piece of evidence that I would like to bring up from my interviews with the Addler family,” Krause interrupted, ignoring the cacophony of questions from the crowd. He turned and smiled at Eythan, flashing the gold tooth at him. Eythan wanted to punch it out. “I could do this myself, but would you mind drawing back your hood?”
He wanted to deny, but he knew if he did it would only make him look worse. So with shaky hands, Eythan took pulled down his hood. He felt his face go red as the crowd gasped and shuffled back, staring at the two black horns peeking out from underneath his dark hair.
“Citizens of Modelheim, Eythan Addler is not what he seemed. He is a tiefling: a child born to devils and demons, and a creature tempted by evil.”
Stay strong…stay strong… Eythan kept repeating his father’s words in his head, but they were becoming clouded with by shame and embarrassment. Instead, he turned and looked at his family, trying to ground himself in them. However, their expressions tore him apart.
Tomas looked angry, but not at Eythan. Instead his eyes were raking over the crowd who backed away.
Meanwhile, all of Dahlia’s fears were suddenly becoming reality, and Eythan knew that she was starting to believe the lies Krause was spreading.
Judah stared straight ahead, his eyes fixed on Eythan’s and unwavering.
“The Addler family has been keeping this a secret from all of Modelheim. Eythan Addler is ill, but not in the way we believed. Instead, he is riddled with infernal blood that is starting to manifest physically. Who’s to say that it will not start affecting him mentally? He is clearly a threat to society.”
“That is not proof,” Eythan growled, his voice lowering as he turned to face Krause. “My race does not predetermine my actions. My father knew this, and he –”
“Died because he chose to trust you instead of let you die in the outskirts.”
Eythan snarled and fought the urge to lunge at him. Don’t give them the satisfaction of tripping you up. Stand your ground. Keep calm.
“Judah Addler. Please step forward to testify,” Krause said as he beckoned the middle child forward.
A hush fell over the crowd. Eythan’s anger immediately vanished into shock. He watched his brother step up onto the podium next to Krause.
Judah, what did you do?
“Please tell the Council Leader what you told me during our interview.”
Judah looked down for a moment, and then raised his head; he almost looked proud. “When Eythan’s horns started growing, my parents wanted to keep him hidden at all times. He wasn’t allowed to go outside without his cloak.”
Only Mom wanted to keep me hidden! Dad was okay with me being out in public, Eythan thought with dread as all of his remaining hope vanish. Judah was twisting the details…
“For the last four years, I noticed that he was starting to become more irritable and impatient, especially around Dad. I think he was angry that he wasn’t allowed to live a life like Tomas and I. I think he wanted an escape.” Judah dared to look at Eythan, and the oldest son felt his heart break. “At first I never wanted to believe that he would be capable of such an act, but the evidence proves otherwise. I can’t ignore it anymore.”
“Judah,” Eythan whispered. “You know that I would never…” His voice was drowned out as the crowd roared with hateful speech.
“Everyone settle down. We will now begin the defense,” the Council Leader ordered. As everyone fell silent, his gaze moved to Eythan’s and softened. “Eythan, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth under the watch and judgment of our almighty ruler, Ioumungand the Frigid Death?”
Eythan nodded, trying to regain his composure. “I-I swear, sir.”
“You have been accused of murdering your father. How do you plea?”
The Council Leader nodded. “Where were you on the morning of your father’s death?”
“I was at home,” Eythan started, trying to not sound defensive or angry. “I had woken up that morning and after eating breakfast I went to the temple to look for my dad and found him inside.” He made sure to explain every detail, every step, and every thought he had. This time, wading through the horrors was easy, because his life was on the line. He had to convince them that he was innocent.
“My dad meant everything to me,” he continued, allowing his emotions to bubble up and seize his throat. “He saved me from death when I was an infant and raised me as his own flesh and blood. He would play board games with me and taught my brothers and I how to play Capture. When I –”
He froze. He couldn’t tell the lie he had been conditioned to tell. Not after swearing to tell the truth. They already know what I am. I have no reason to lie.
When I started showing signs of my bloodline, Dad thought it would be safer to keep me at home. He knew others may be afraid of me,” he continued, trying to remain calm. “So, he taught me to stay strong and proud, and to not let others bring me down when I in the face of adversity. He taught me the ways of being Cleric of Ioun. He gave me nothing but unconditional support and love. I owe my life to him.”
Eythan straightened his back and lifted his head high, feeling a surge of pride rush through him. “With all due respect, Chancellor Krause is fabricating a reason to condemn me for a crime I didn’t commit. I would never harm someone I love, especially not my father.”
The crowd murmured around him, their voices buzzing like insects. Eythan hoped that they were starting to sympathize with him. It would take a miracle to prove that a kid with infernal blood was innocent.
“Thank you for your testimony. I would now like to invite anyone who wishes to defend Eythan to step forward and speak in front of our all-powerful leader.”
Eythan didn’t expect Judah to say anything to help him – he clearly didn’t believe he was innocent. He turned to look toward his mother. She stood stoic, her gaze toward the ground; ashamed, hurt, angry. Mom…you must believe me…
Tomas pulled away from Dahlia and ran up to the podium. He reached out to take Eythan’s hand and squeezed as tightly as he could muster.
“My brother has done so much for our family,” Tomas proclaimed, his voice louder and clearer that Eythan had ever heard before. “He played games with me and taught me to read. He helped Judah with his homework and helped Mom cook dinners! He was always the one to comfort us when we were sad. I can trust him to go to him when I need help, because he is the type of person who will protect those he loves so matter what.”
Then, from the crowd, the town herbalist stepped forward. As struggled to climb the steps to the podium, Eythan reached down for her to assist her. She didn’t hesitate to take his hand.
“I have had the rare pleasure of getting to know this young boy personally,” she said with a smile as she held on. “He would visit my shop frequently to pick up herbs and potions for his father. Sometimes, he would brave the world despite his illness just to say hello to me. Never once did he make me feel burdened by his presence. Never once have I seen this child in an ill light. This child is as innocent as they come.”
Eythan squeezed his eyes shut, wishing he could wipe away the tears that were building up. He didn’t dare pull away, clinging to them for support.
“Thank you for those words,” the Council Leader said. “We have heard the evidence against and the testimonies supporting Eythan Addler. It is now time to deliberate and choose the fate of this boy. Citizens of Modelheim, do we find him guilty or innocent?”
A chorus of “guilty” reverberated loudly through the town, and Eythan felt his knees go weak. Tomas helped him stand. He was exposed as a tiefling. He was found guilty of murdering Modelheim’s cleric. He was helpless.
He would be sacrificed to the Ioumungand the Frigid Death as penance.
Eythan stumbled as he was dragged out of his cell. He hadn’t been provided food or water since his trial, and he could barely sleep knowing that he was going to die.
He had spent every waking moment praying to every god he could think of, adjusting the many prayers his father had taught him to better suit each individual god. One of them ad to hear him, one of them had to help.
They didn’t reply.
It was midday. Not a single cloud was in the sky to block the sun reflecting on the white surface of the snow. Despite how beautiful it looked outside, the wind was whipping and the wind chill made the temperature drop nearly below zero. Eythan winced as the guards brought him out of the prison to walk the long trek through town to the mountain. The same guard who had given him a blanket provided him with a thin shawl. It didn’t keep him warm, but it blocked the wind.
I’ll die before I ever make it to Ioumungand, Eythan thought with dismay as he tried to concentrate on moving one foot in front of the other. Can’t someone see that this is wrong?
He looked up to watch the people as he passed. They kept close to their homes, bundled under thick blankets or dressed in several layers of clothing. He hoped that through their judgement they would see a frightened boy suffering.
No one stepped forward to try and help.
No one except Tomas, who rushed out of his home with their father’s cloak. He stumbled in the deep snow, and blocked the guards.
“Out of the way,” the guard ordered.
“It’s too cold to not have a cloak!” he demanded, his eyes glassy. “He’ll die without it!”
“He’s going to die anyways.”
“Hey!” Eythan yanked on the chain. “How about showing my brother some sympathy.”
The second guard back handed him across the cheek, knocking him to the ground. He crumbled and groaned, wishing he could just lay in the snow and fall asleep.
“Watch your mouth, boy.”
“Eythan!” Tomas pushed past and draped their father’s cloak over him. “You can’t let them take you…I need you, we all –”
“Go back inside,” Eythan grumbled as he pushed himself back onto his knees.
“No! I won’t go back inside, not without –”
“Tomas!” Eythan shouted, startling himself as much as his brother. “That’s enough.”
Tomas bit his lip and remained still until a guard grabbed him by the arm and moved him aside. He stood back and watched as they continued walking toward the looming mountain where the Frigid Death waited.
“If you are alone, pray and keep trying your best.”
I know, Dad…I’ve tried praying to everyone… Eythan closed his eyes. There was only one god that he hadn’t dared to pray to. He was the one whom his father warned him about his entire life, even before Eythan knew that he was a tiefling.
Why would an evil god ever reach out to help a child raised under Ioun’s watch? What benefit would he gain from that? Yet deep down, Eythan knew that he may reply to one of his own children.
It was his last chance at survival.
Asmodeous, god of devils, hear my prayer. I have been unjustly accused of a crime and will be sentenced to death… Eythan paused, pushing away his shame and mustering up his courage. I don’t know my true lineage, but the blood of your race runs through me. I am one of your descendants, and I am in need of immediate assistance. Please, help me.
Eythan tripped over a jagged rock hidden under the snow and stumbled, landing on his knees. The guards pulled at his arms again, nearly dislocating his shoulder in the process.
He gritted his teeth and kicked out at one of the guards, the heel of his boot connecting with his shin. The guard cursed and moved to elbow him in the back of the head, but faltered as darkness surrounded them.
Eythan gasped as he went blind. For a moment he thought he had lost his vision, but he could feel and hear the panic of the guards as they too were shrouded in darkness even Eythan couldn’t see through.
He ripped his arm out of the first guards grasp, and used the momentum to punch the other in the wrist. Now free, he backed up and fled. After a few feet he broke free from the darkness and headed to the surrounding woods. He looked back and saw that there was a sphere of darkness surrounding the guards.
“Don’t look back.”
Eythan gasped as his lungs burned from the cold air. He stumbled through the underbrush, his feet and legs numb as he ducked under the branches. An arrow whizzed past and buried itself into the tree. Another grazed his arm and ripped a hole in his father’s cloak.
“Watch your step.”
The forest suddenly slopped downward. Eythan lost his footing and slid down, crying out as he rolled over stones and sticks. He slid to a stop at the bottom, buried in the snow. Groaning, pulled himself back to his feet as the shouts of guards grew closer. He reached up and touched his forehead, feeling a cut bleeding heavily. Fuck…
Eythan stood up and leaned against a tree. He looked around and saw that he was trapped in a valley. The only escapes were up and out, or to run down along the valley.
He turned and saw the mouth of a cave carved into the mountain side. Most likely a bear den, or worse. He limped quickly toward it, trying to cover his tracks by brushing snow into his foot falls and covering any blood the dripped. Once at the cave, he carefully peered inside. His vision allowed him to look deep into the cave. He couldn’t see the end, but it seemed empty except for some piles of dung.
Eythan carefully made his way toward the back of the cave, shrinking down into the shadows and covering himself with his father’s cloak. He pulled the hood over his face and pulled his knees up to his chest so only his eyes were exposed.
“Don’t move. Stay quiet.”
“He went in there!” The shouting grew louder as the search party approached the cave. They looked inside, a few stepping in to look around. However, the flames of their torches didn’t penetrate deep into the cave.
“Where’d he go?” the guard who Eythan had punched asked.
“The tracks led to this cave! He has to be in here,” the second one yelled, his voice echoing along the walls.
“It looks like this cave goes pretty deep.” The first guard gestured toward a pile of dung with his foot. “And it doesn’t seem like its empty.”
“Might as well let him run; whatever is living here will kill him anyways. Come on, let’s go back.” The guards and the rest of the search party left and began the trek out of the valley and back into town.
Eythan stayed put long after they left, trembling and crying as the stress and pressure of the past week caught up with him. He sobbed quietly, burying his face into his father’s cloak as he tried to regain control of his emotions.
Right before he escaped, he had felt a sudden surge of anger and strength wash over him, and shortly after a burst of darkness shielded him and helped him escape. Was that really the god of devils answering him?
Th-thank you… he praised quietly as he crawled carefully out of the den. Several hours had passed. He shook out his hands to get the blood flowing and found a large boulder to slam against his manacles. After snapping the chains, his wrists were bloody and raw, but he was free. He started the long crawl up the opposite side of the valley, grabbing at tree roots and branches for balance.
Once at the top, he looked across the valley to the edge of Modelheim. The town was shimmering in the sunlight, the icicles and snow reflecting the light. This place used to be his home, and he wished he could return just for a moment to tell Tomas that he was okay, that he survived. But he knew he could never go back. He stepped into the shadows of the forest and started to run.
Someday, Tomas…I’ll come back for you, someday.
“On your mark, get set, go!”
Judah and Tomas take off in opposite directions, exploring the ground of the temple in search of two flags. Meanwhile, Eythan sits back in the shade of the evergreen they decorated during the holidays and keeps score. Tomas runs along the temple’s porch, looking for a blue flag in the rafters. Meanwhile, Judah takes his time and climbs up trees, trying to find Tomas’ red flag.
Eythan looks up into the tree above him and sees the red flag shoved into the knot hole. It was Tomas’ favorite place to hide his flag.
Judah jumps down from his tree and lands heavily. He then pretends to look under boulders nearby. Meanwhile, Tomas finds Judah’s flag tucked neatly under the family canoe at the edge of their pond.
“I got it!” he shouts as he waves it above his head. He starts to sprint back toward home. One that cue, Judah rushes at Eythan and jumps up into the tree, shaking pine needles down on his older brother. He reaches for the flag just as Tomas comes up and touches Eythan to signal his victory…
… Eythan is inside the temple, watching his father dust off the bookshelves. He is always so careful when handling the fragile texts. The paper is brittle and the leather binding is worn.
“How many books are in here?” Eythan asks as he walks up and looks around.
“Far too many to count, son,” Levi says as he climbs down the ladder. “Ever since I became the cleric of this temple, I have been adding books to these shelves. And the cleric before me did the same, and the cleric before him. One day, when you take my place, you will be able to add your own books.”
“Is there room for any more?”
“Of course there is! There is always more room for books and for knowledge.”
Levi hands Eythan a large book bound in dark brown leather. It has no title, only a symbol of an eye pressed into the cover. He opens it and reads the scrawled message on the first page: Under the watchful eyes of the pantheon, I will live for the pursuit of knowledge, the wisdom of prophecy, and the teachings of Ioun.
“Dad, why did you want to become a cleric?” Eythan asks as he flips carefully through the pages of the ancient text. He can barely make out the scribbled handwriting.
“For the same reason some young men want to become warriors, or others want to become performers. There is a call for everyone, and mine was to follow Ioun and help those in his name.”
“Do you think there is a calling for me?” he asks, staring at the pages intently, as if he would find the answers hidden in the letters.
Levi smiles and reaches out to touch Eythan’s shoulder…
… His parents discuss the horns growing out from his head in their bedroom as Eythan eavesdrops by the door.
“Levi, did you know that he was a…?” Dahlia’s voice is a hushed whisper he can barely make out.
“How could I? He looked normal when we found him.”
“What are we going to do? No one can find out what he is.”
“He is still the same boy that we have raised. His lineage doesn’t change that.”
“But he’s a tiefling. A monster…”
Eythan slides down the wall and pulls his knees up to his chest. His mother…no, she wasn’t really his mother was she? Was she afraid of him?
His parents fall quiet for a moment, and then his father sighs. “He’s an Addler, just like his brothers. Right, Eythan?”
Eythan perked up in surprised, and then pushed open the door a crack to peek inside.
“You know you can’t hide from me.” Levi smiles and pats the empty space between him and his wife. Eythan stands up and goes inside, rubbing at his eyes to stop from tearing up.
“Everything will be okay, son.”
Eythan crawls into bed between his parents and they hug him tightly…
Eythan groaned and opened his eyes, blinking in the darkness as his vision adjusted. He didn’t recognize the room he was in, and for a moment he thought he was back in the prison. He sat up quickly, his head spinning from the blood rush. Despite his spotty vision, he noticed that he was in a small room just large enough for a person or two. There was one bed, a table and chair, and a dresser. He had the feeling that he was in an inn.
“Easy there, Eythan Addler,” a voice chuckled from the shadows. “You’ve had quite a rough week.”
By the window was a man in a dark suit. He was older, but not as old as his parents, and had dark skin. It was clear that he wasn’t a native to the North. His black hair was slicked back and shimmered as if there were stars woven throughout. Around the collar of his shirt, Eythan could see strange gold tattoos peeking out. When the man turned around, his golden eyes almost glowed in the dark. Other than that, he looked completely human.
“How do you know who I am? Who are you? Where am I?” Eythan asked, trying to not sound frightened. Despite his best efforts, his voice wavered with anxiety.
“You can call me Pythos. I found you collapsed outside and brought you here to heal. We’re a few miles south of Modelheim, where word about your escape is quickly spreading…” Pythos walked over and pressed his hand to Eythan’s forehead. “You still have a small fever.”
“Heal me…are you a cleric?”
Pythos let out a short, rough laugh. “Oh no, I’m no cleric. I’m something better.”
Eythan looked past Pythos to see his father’s cloak draped over the side of a chair. “Why did you save me?”
The stranger sat down on the edge of the bed, folding his hands in his lap. “How old are you…fifteen, sixteen?”
He shrugged, as if that was answer enough. “No child should be thrown to the dragons or left to die in the woods.”
“I don’t want to know,” Pythos interrupted, starling Eythan. “I know what you are, but I don’t want to know your story. It’s better if we keep those details to ourselves.”
“Isn’t that reckless?” Eythan asked, crossing his arms over his chest. “Who’s to say I’m not some murderer?” He thought bitterly on his trial. All of Modelheim thinks I am anyways…
“I try not to judge someone on their past. We don’t get to choose what we are. So why should I hold that against you?”
Eythan tried to fight back a smile. There wasn’t an underlying fear or shame in Pythos’ voice, no sense of disapproval for actions Eythan never committed. For the first time he felt completely accepted.
“Tell me, child, have you ever heard of a warlock?”
The term was vaguely familiar, something that Eythan had read in one of the books in the temple. “Aren’t they evil?”
“Some warlocks may choose to walk that path, but I certainly wouldn’t consider myself evil. Warlocks are simply blessed with magic running through their blood. As a tiefling, you are more likely to have this gift as well.”
“I don’t understand. How can I be a warlock if I was training to become a cleric?”
Pythos rolled his eyes. “Clerics have to pray to gods for their powers, while warlocks simply have to believe in their own abilities to succeed.”
My own abilities… He always knew he was different, even before his horns started growing in. People seemed uneasy around him, and his brothers had always teased that he was too good at playing hide and seek in the dark. He was certain that he was now starting to hear voices in his head… Am I going crazy? Or can I really hear others’ thoughts? Was that really Asmodeous talking to me, or…?
“Which god do you worship?” he asked, his mind whirling.
Despite all of the questions, the warlock still had a wistful smile on his lips. “That’s classified information, as every detail about your life should be. The more people know about you, the easier it will be for them to manipulate you. When you’re anonymous, you’re safe.”
Something about Pythos rubbed Eythan the wrong way. He couldn’t tell if it was his smooth arrogance, the strange aura of magic surrounding him, or the fact that he went out of his way to save a tiefling.
“Why should I trust you?”
“Trust is something that must be earned. I do believe that saving your life counts for something, but in the end it’s up to you to decide.” Pythos got back to his feet and headed to the door. “Now, I’m going to head out and gather some supplies. You should be safe here while I’m gone. We will continue south tomorrow.”
“What makes you think I’m going to go with you?”
“You want to find out who killed your dad, right?”
Eythan sucked in a sharp breath. His life had taken such a drastic turn in the last few days, he had almost forgotten that it all started when his dad died. He throat closed up as he tried to push down the pain.
“Well, do you?”
“Then come with me. I’ll teach you the ways of warlocks. I’ll show you how to defend yourself and how to fight. Once you’re strong enough, you’ll be able to go after your father’s murderer and clear your name.”
Eythan clenched his fists and stared down at his hands. He knew he could never return to Modelheim, never clear his name or avenge his father; at least, not as he was now. If he trained and studied enough, he might have a chance.
“What do you say? Will you become my apprentice?”
Pythos smiled victoriously. “Your training starts at dawn.”
If you receive this letter, know that I’m safe. I escaped from my unjust execution, and was saved by a man named Pythos who says he can teach me how to defend myself. He’s a warlock, and I’m now his apprentice.
I’m going to be traveling south with him to grow stronger and learn about my past. I hope to one day return home to prove my innocence and find out who really killed Dad. Until then, I will write you letters so you don’t have to worry about me. If you can, try to write me back, but don’t get caught.
This must be a secret. I’m trusting you.
As Pythos finished packing up their belongings, Eythan rolled up the brief letter and tied it with his shoelace. “Hey Pythos, do you know how I can send a letter to my brother to let him know I’m okay without being traced?”
Pythos turned and furrowed his brow. “If we want to move forward, we have to leave the past behind us.”
“I know, but…” he paused, feeling his face flush from embarrassment. “My little brother still believes I’m innocent. He’s the only family I really have left…I have to let him know that I’m okay.”
The warlock sighed and nodded his head, holding out his hand. Eythan gave him the letter. Pythos murmured a quick spell, summoning an owl into the room. It landed on his hand, ruffling its feathers before taking the letter in its claws.
“Where do you want him to go?”
“Uh…” Eythan bit his lip, trying to think of how he could ensure Tomas would be the only one to get the letter. “There’s a tree in our yard. A large pine. There is a knot hole where my brother likes to hide his flag when we play Capture. Can the owl hide the letter in there?”
Pythos nodded, and flicked his hand. The owl hooted and took off through the window.
“Will it bring back a response?” Eythan asked as he watched it disappear into the forest.
“No. Once it has left the letter in the directed place, it will vanish. Now let’s get moving.”
The two of them began the long journey south, taking the well-worn path. The farther down the road they traveled, the denser the woods became and the more dangerous the territory. Eythan kept close to Pythos. He had never left Modelheim before.
There was a low rumble above them. He looked up and saw massive gray creatures up in the hills. They looked like they were made of stone, nearly blending into the mountain face. Eythan had the feeling that they were watching him.
“Gray Renders,” Pythos said, noticing Eythan’s distress. “Despite their appearance, they’re a good monster to have around. They keep watch over the roads that lead through their territory to ensure that travelers aren’t attacked.”
“How do you know that?”
“As a warlock, I have to be knowledgeable about the world and the magic in it. The more you can learn, the stronger you can become.”
Eythan nodded, shifting the satchel Pythos had given him on his shoulder. “So…what exactly can you do as a warlock?”
Pythos smiled and thrust out his hand. A violet energy erupted in his palm, the flames licking around his fist. In a flash, the fire stretched out to be several feet long while the tip hardened into that of a blade. The spear-like weapon materialized, and Pythos whirled it around to strike at a nearby tree. The glaive sliced a deep gash into the bark.
“Whoa!” Eythan exclaimed, his eyes widening.
“There is so much more that we warlocks can do,” Pythos bragged as he let the weapon dissipate. “We can call upon invocations to sense other creatures around us in our mind, boost our strength in combat, and protect ourselves when we are in danger.”
“How do you make it happen without reciting a spell?”
“Excellent question, child!”
Eythan furrowed his brow. “My name is Eythan.”
“I know your birth name, but to remain safe from your past you will need to take on a new identity. Once you’ve awaken your warlock abilities, I will grant you a new name for your new life.”
“So I take it Pythos isn’t your real name?”
“If I answered that, it would give away a clue to my real identity.”
Eythan sighed and rolled his eyes. It had only been a few hours, and he was getting tired of Pythos’ habit of beating around the bush.
“Now back to your question. To summon the eldritch fire from within, you will need to call upon an invocation. This is a special skill that warlocks can accomplish.” Pythos stopped walking and grabbed Eythan’s shoulders. “I know that this power is inside you. I can sense it. All you need to do is unlock it. Let the emotion and power overcome you and manifest.”
Eythan raised his brow and scoffed. Like that makes any sense.
“The best way to expose those feelings is to be in a state of danger where you will need to rely on those abilities.” Pythos grinned again and pulled out a dagger. “So, move!”
He slashed it down at Eythan, just barely grazing his cheek. Eythan stumbled back and fell onto the ground, shouting in surprise as Pythos lunged at him. He scrambled back into the trees as the warlock moved lazily on his feet.
“What the hell!”
“Like I said, your training starts today! Do you need more of a threat?” Pythos asked, his voice light and playful. “I guess so, since your abilities weren’t activated when your town was going to throw you to the dragon. A measly dagger simply isn’t enough.”
Is he insane?!
Pythos slipped the dagger back into his breast pocket, and when he withdrew his hand it was surrounded in violet eldritch fire. The smile on his face fell as he became entirely serious. He thrust out his hand and a blast of energy shot out at Eythan.
Eythan dove to the ground, the flames bursting over him and lighting the tree behind him on fire. A branch snapped and fell toward him. He rolled out of the way as Pythos shot another eldritch blast at him.
“Make me stop, child! Do something to fight back!” Pythos summoned his glaive for a second time and shot forward, slicing it downwards. It stabbed into the ground, and darkness exploded around them once again.
Eythan crawled backwards in a panic, watching as Pythos stopped and leaned on his glaive in a relaxed manner – as if he wasn’t even breaking a sweat.
“How interesting. You have yet to access your eldritch fire, but have already learned to call upon your tiefling traits.”
“My…what?” Eythan asked, standing back up as Pythos looked for him.
“This ability is called Darkness. For those who don’t have fiendish blood, it’s a spell that can be learned to provide cover during a fight. You, however, can use it at will.” Pythos aimed his glaive into the dark and shot off a blast of fire. It collided a few feet to the right of Eythan. “It makes it harder for enemies to hit you.”
“Are you an enemy?”
Pythos laughed again. “I’m trying to help you.”
“That’s not what it seems like!” Eythan shouted as he began to climb up one of the nearby trees.
“Your tiefling abilities are something you should be proud of! They give you an edge, but those are traits you will have to learn with time. I can only teach you how to be a warlock. So focus on fighting back and not hiding, and perhaps we can get somewhere.”
If he wants to fight, I’ll give him a fight…somehow. Eythan balanced on the tree branches, noticing how the darkness surrounding him stretched out below him. Pythos walked into the shadows, seemingly unafraid of being blind. As he approached, Eythan perched above him and prepared to jump onto him.
Pythos looked up and sliced his glaive upwards, cutting into the branch.
Eythan jerked backward and fell out of the tree, landing heavily on his back. The wind was knocked out of him, leaving his breathless and dizzy. Pythos stood over him and let his weapon disappear in smoke.
“You have a lot to learn. Stand up. We’re going to stop at the next town to get you some proper supplies” He reached down, his glove slipping slightly to reveal more tattoos. Eythan hesitantly took his hand and was brought back to his feet. “For now, keep this on you.” He have Eythan his dagger.
As he continued on his way, Eythan trailed behind while examining the dagger. It looked normal, but there were runes engraved into the hilt. He couldn’t read them, but he had the sense that they were infernal in nature.
Asmodeous….did you really save me? Is this the path that I’m supposed to take?
“Child, hurry up!”
“Coming!” Eythan stashed the dagger in his cloak and rushed to catch up with Pythos, hoping that he would find the answers that he was seeking.
A loud bang woke Eythan out of his sleep. He jumped out of bed and grabbed his dagger from the nightstand, holding it in front of him defensively. His eyes quickly adjusted and he noticed that there was no intruder.
Pythos was also absent.
Slowly, he slipped out of bed and pulled on his father’s cloak. He carefully opened the door, peeking out before stepping into the inn’s hall. It was dark, but he could see perfectly. He quickly rushed down the steps and out the back door.
Pythos, where are you?
An owl hooted in the woods. Eythan paused. Was that Pythos trying to communicate with him secretly?
If that’s you, send ano –!!
Eythan was tackled from behind and pinned into the ground. He tried to call out for help but his face was buried into the ground as he tried to wrestle out from underneath the man grappling him. He twisted his arm to try and wedge the dagger up into his assailant’s wrist, but it was knocked out of his grip.
“Look at that, in just a few months the devil spawn puts up more of a fight. Looks like Judah was right. You are becoming more devilish,” his captor sneered.
Eythan thrashed as he recognized the voice of one of the more famous adventurers hailing from Modelheim.
“Time to drag you back home where you can face your judgment,” Hendrik grunted as he pulled Eythan back onto his feet and covered his mouth with a cloth.
Eythan gagged as he smelled a strange tonic laced in the fabric. He held his breath, his head already spinning. No! Pythos, help! He squeezed his eyes shut as the darkness surrounded him in response to his panic.
“That trick won’t work on me, boy,” Hendrik gloated, the goggles covering his eyes glowing in the mist.
I’ve got more tricks up my sleeve, you prick. Eythan jerked his head back, ramming his horns against Henrik’s jugular. It choked him and made him loosen his grip just enough for the young tiefling to go limp and slip through.
He threw the cloth off his face and sucked in a deep breath of fresh air, diving to the ground to search for his dagger, but it was buried in the snow. Fuck, where is it?
Hendrik lunged at him as Eythan grabbed the hilt of the dagger. He slashed the blade behind him wildly. The tip cut shallowly into Hendrik’s throat. It didn’t cause much damage, but it made the adventurer flinch and step back. Eythan bolted toward the center of the city, his dagger tightly in his hand.
“Help! Someone, help me!” he shouted as he banged on random doors to inns and houses, trying to gain attention.
Eythan looked over his shoulder to see Hendrik loading a bolt into his crossbow.
Would he really shoot me in the middle of town?!
The door to the home opened and Eythan pushed himself inside just as Hendrik fired off his crossbow. The arrow collided into the woman, gouging deep into her stomach.
She collapsed to the ground, barely making a sound as blood gurgled up her throat. Eythan fell to his knees as the horror overwhelmed him.
“O-oh my god!” He crawled over, pressing his hands against the wound to try and stop the bleeding. “Ioun!”
“You can’t save her. Go.”
Eythan took a few shaky steps backwards and ran deeper into the house, trying to find a back exit to escape. From upstairs he heard the woman’s husband rush down the hall and start screaming as he saw his wife in the doorway. He grabbed a chair and smashed it against the kitchen window, pushing his way past the glass and into the backyard.
Ioun, Kord, Avandra, someone stop him! He’s hurting innocents!
As he got to his feet, Hendrik rounded the corner and shot off another crossbolt. It slammed into Eythan’s leg.
Eythan fell to the ground, screaming as his leg seized up. He cried out as he crumpled forward and clutched his leg.
“Can’t run anymore, brat.” Henrik growled as he stalked forward. He grabbed Eythan by the hair and dragged him up, banging his wounded leg against the blood-soaked earth. Eythan reached up to grab at Hendrik’s hands.
F- fuck! Aah-Asmodeous! Help!
There was an explosion of fire.
The adventurer screamed as he fell backwards, his hands and arms ablaze with blue flames. He dropped Eythan and tried to squelch the fire in the snow, but it only seemed to rage. Woozy and lightheaded, Eythan struggled to his feet and leaned against the house to support him. The fire encasing his hands caught the wood and began to crawl up the side of the building.
It…it doesn’t hurt me…
“Who did this?!” shouted the man from inside, looking out the broken window to see Hendrik on the ground and Eythan swathed in eldritch fire and setting his home aflame.
The fire raged, swallowing the wood and thatch home in a ball of fire that quickly spread to the neighbor. People started screaming as they were woken by the commotion.
Hendrik grunted and lunged at Eythan, but was pinned to the ground by an eldritch glaive. Eythan stumbled backwards, limping heavily on his bad leg. Pythos rushed over and picked him up.
“Pythos, wait, we have to –!”
“Forget it. We’re leaving. ”
Despite Eythan’s struggling, Pythos ran into the dense forest, leaving the village behind to burn.
They traveled in silence, except for Pythos’ nearly silent footsteps and Eythan’s whimpering any time his leg moved. Pythos gave him a piece of leather to bite on to fight the pain, but it didn’t help much. The entire time, all Eythan could think about was the couple in the home he had killed.
No, it was an accident. I didn’t do it on purpose… I’m not a murderer…
After walking for a mile, they finally stopped in a dense grove. Pythos laid Eythan down in the snow and began to work on removing the crossbolt from his leg. He gave him a potion to drink to numb the pain.
“You handled yourself well.”
“W-what?” Eythan asked, his head spinning from the drugs. He stared up at the sky, watching as the stars danced along the Milky Way.
“Even though I’ve only been training you for a few months, I’m glad your past caught up with you a bit. It finally triggered that eldritch fire inside of you.”
Eythan scowled. “I didn’t want…not like this.”
“I know, but you’ll have to learn that sometimes you have to do difficult things in order to get what you want. Now that you’ve unlocked your abilities, you’ll be able to conjure it more often,” Pythos explained as he began to clean out the wound. Eythan hadn’t even noticed that the arrow had been yanked out. “Your fire is tied to your emotions, so if you get scared or angry, the more powerful you can be.”
“I don’t want to talk about warlock stuff right now.” He just wanted to look at the stars. He thought he could see his father in the constellations.
“Of course. For now, we just need to patch you up and get you back on your feet.”
The sky blurred into streaks of color, as if the world was going to fly off its axis. The earth beneath him seemed to vibrate with life. He felt like he was out of his body. He felt like a god. He felt like he was going to vomit.
“What did you give me?” he asked, nearly gagging on his own voice.
“Cure Moderate Wounds, Bear’s Endurance, Remove Disease, Amborisa Absinthe…”
“A mix of health potions, antibiotics, and some divine alcohol to numb you up.”
All of Eythan’s senses were heightened. His body was made of pins and needles, and his heart was going to beat out of his chest. The sound of each inhale deafened him, and he could smell the snow and taste the wind. “Am I dying?”
Pythos smiled and stitched up his leg methodically. “You’re not dying, Ambrosio. You’ve just started living.”
Flames stretched for the sky as smoke and ash billowed up in colossal clouds. The screams below were finally drowned out by the crackle of wooden shops crumbling around them. Animals fled from the scene as the blaze spread out, threatening to light up the forest.
Ambrosio stood atop the hill, watching as the small village was erased off the map. He rubbed the soot off his face. After two years of pillaging and stealing, one more destroyed village didn’t make him lose sleep.
“By burning down each village, we are securing our own safety. No one can come after us if they’re all dead.”
He turned and left the charred remains of an unknown town behind him. At the bottom of the hill, Pythos was waiting patiently. He carried a bag of supplies over his shoulder; fresh spoils of their massacre. Next to him on a lead was a mottled horse taken from the now charred stables.
“Did you get the books from the library?”
Ambrosio slipped off his satchel and opened it, showing Pythos the various texts of arcane magic piled inside.
“Perfect.” Pythos mounted the horse, which fought him briefly before accepting him as a rider. Ambrosio climbed up after him, holding onto his mentor’s waist as he guided the horse down the path.
It was a little past midnight when they arrived in the next town. Pythos dropped off their horse at the stables and booked a room at the connected inn. Meanwhile, Ambrosio carried their supplies up to the room and collapsed onto the bed with exhaustion.
Living a nomadic lifestyle was draining, especially when he was training daily. However, he could tell that he growing stronger every day. His eldritch fire was growing more deadly as he learned to use his anger and pain productively, and his telepathic powers were expanding. If he wanted to, he could reach out to listen to Pythos’ surface thoughts up to thirty feet away, but he respected his mentor’s privacy.
“To frivolously invade one’s mind is dangerous. Don’t take advantage of this skill.”
He closed his eyes and sighed. He wished he could fall asleep easy, but his brain was always buzzing. When he first discovered he was telepathic, he had to strain to pick up a thought. Now there was a constant stream of voices in his brain, the ability heightened as his powers grew. Even when everyone was asleep, the residual white noise rang in his ears.
“Are you unable to sleep?” Pythos asked as he walked into the room, locking the door behind him and moving to the window to draw the shades.
“What’s new?” Ambrosio asked as he rolled onto his side to bury his face into the hood of his cloak. He never liked to take it off. “I need a sleep tonic.”
“You shouldn’t take so many potions,” Pythos warned. Regardless, Ambrosio heard the gentle clinking and swirling of liquids as Pythos mixed up an elixir to help him rest. When it was complete, Ambrosio reached out and took the bottle, then downed it quickly. It tasted heavily of lavender, hiding the other ingredients that would knock him out and silence the static.
The next morning Ambrosio woke up from a dreamless night, and despite the solid eight hours of rest he had a throbbing headache. The voices were out of his head, but he felt like they were crawling under his skin.
He stumbled over to Pythos’ bag of potions and pulled out a bottle of smelling salts. He took the bottle into the bathroom and began to fill the tub with scalding water. He dumped in all of the salts, then completely submerged himself. Slowly his headache dissipated, and while his paranoia ate away at the corners of his mind, he felt himself relaxing.
“Are you okay? You took the entire bottle with you.”
Ambrosio closed his eyes, dunking his head under the water. I’m fine.
“I’m concerned about your wellbeing. Are you having nightmares again?”
It’s just stress.
“I can always adjust your dosage again if you need it.”
He didn’t like feeling so dependent on medicines and potions, but it seems that the stronger his tiefling bloodline became the worse his symptoms were. His horns and fangs had finally stopped growing, but now his psyche was taking the hit.
Yeah, that’s fine. We can up the dosage.
There was a pause. “I’m going to head out to collect more supplies. When you’re done, try getting out for a while and see if that helps. Fresh air will help.”
Ambrosio waited until the water was cold before getting out and drying himself off. His stomach growled loudly as he finished getting ready and headed downstairs to the tavern. Despite being early morning, there were already a few patrons at the bar eating breakfast, which mainly consisted of salted pork and ale. Ambrosio scowled. He already felt dehydrated from soaking in salts. The last thing he needed was alcohol or cured meats.
He walked over to an empty table and sat down, running his fingers through his hair. He was starting to hear the whispers of the drunks and the barstaff.
“What kind of kid hides under a cloak?”
“I really hope I don’t have to go and serve him.”
“Something about that guy creeps me out.”
Shut up, shut up, shut up…
“Excuse me, sir, can I get you anything?” An elven bar maid asked as she strode up to him. She didn’t seem to be unnerved by his presence, and when he noticed her stark white hair and red eyes, he knew that she too probably felt like an outcast.
“Just a glass of water.”
“Sure thing, hun,” she said with a friendly smile as she whirled back to the bar, the coin satchel on her hip jingling. In a flash, she was back with a large growler filled to the brim with ice water, as well as a basket of freshly baked bread and butter. She set them both down in front of Ambrosio.
“Oh, I only needed…”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said as she moved to wipe down a nearby table. “I find that bread and water help me out the most whenever I have a hangover.”
The drow elf nodded. “The dark cloak, the baggy eyes, the hunched over posture of a man with a raging headache…”
“This is just what I look like,” Ambrosio corrected bluntly.
She flushed in response, bowing slightly. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Ambrosio waved his hand. “It’s fine. Thank you for the meal.” He reached down to grab some coins from his pouch, but the bar maid reached out to stop him.
“It’s on the house.” Then in another blur she was gone to welcome a new patron who walked through the door.
I guess there are still some kind people in the world, he thought with a smile as he guzzled down his water and stuffed his cheeks with bread. Getting some food in his system seemed to help calm his nerves and quiet the voices that were starting to surface.
“Enjoy that meal while you can, Eythan Addler.”
Ambrosio choked on his bread. He whipped around to see someone standing behind him. The stranger was very a halfling, barely reaching up to Ambrosio’s hip. She wore clothing made entirely out of animal hide and fur, and had feathers and gemstones woven into her hair. Despite her short stature, she seemed to ooze power.
His hand dropped down to his waist, hovering over his dagger. “Who are you?”
“Who I am doesn’t matter. What matters is that I see a tragedy in your future.” She stepped closer, and Ambrosio jumped to his feet.
“What do you want?” he barked, feeling the stress and pressure build up around him.
“What I want is for you to listen. Your life is reaching its end,” the stranger warned, her voice taking on a hollow tone.
“Stay back.” Ambrosio grabbed his dagger.
“You are to experience a fate as quickly and as painfully as your father’s
“I said stay back!”
“And it will come when you least expect it.”
She took another step forward.
Ambrosio lashed out.
Her eyes went wide, and her breath caught in her throat. He froze as he realized that his dagger jabbed up underneath her ribs, and that blood was spilling out onto his hand. Shakily he pulled the dagger free, and she collapsed onto the ground.
He turned to look over at the bar. Their eyes were locked on him. All of their thoughts were silent.
Then the room exploded with white noise.
Ambrosio nearly crumpled from the onslaught. Instead, he fled from the tavern and tried to escape his own mind, screaming out for Pythos. He barely heard his own voice over the words screaming in his mind: Help! Murderer! Catch him!
He tried to stretch out his senses to locate his mentor, but word was spreading fast in the town, and their collective thoughts were scrambling his senses. Ambrosio stumbled to a stop and bent over, clutching his head in his hands. His skull was splitting apart, and his brain was melting out of his ears.
Please, make it stop…
The voices vanished. Ambrosio opened his eyes and looked around in awe as suddenly his mind from free of clutter.
“Ambrosio!” Pythos called out as he ran up to him with a sack of potions over his shoulder and a scroll crumpled in his hand.
“W-why can’t I hear them?” he asked, shaken as he was helped up to his feet.
“I bought a scroll that would remove your telepathy for a short time. Now what the hell did you do?”
Ambrosio looked down at his red stained hands. He began to tremble. “I…I may have killed someone in the tavern.”
“In front of everyone?”
“Panicking will get us killed,” Pythos growled as he yanked Ambrosio forward and shoved him down an alley between two shops. Behind them they could hear the shouts of the guards looking for them. “Cast your darkness.”
The shadows sprung up around them in an instant.
“Crouch down and stay quiet.”
Ambrosio nodded silently as he tried to rub the blood off his hands onto his shirt. Although he had killed many people since he began traveling with Pythos, he would burn this shirt later. It reminded him of that woman’s words.
A guard approached the alley. Pythos reached into his sack and pulled out a glass bottle filled with red liquid. He threw the bottle high into the air, watching as it smashed against the roof of a nearby shop. It immediately was engulfed in a rage of alchemist fire: Pythos’ favorite method to destroy his past.
As the guard turned around to see what happened, Pythos lunged forward out of the dark and slit his throat with his dagger, dispatching him with ease as he shoved him into the alley. He then began to climb up the side of the building to get to the rooftops with Ambrosio following after him.
Once above the town, they could see that patrons were fleeing out of the building that they had set ablaze. Pythos smiled and laughed, enjoying himself as he ran and jumped over toward the next rooftop. Ambrosio followed behind him, feeling lighter as he only had his own thoughts to manage. They quickly made their way to the inn to collect their belongings.
Pythos scrambled down the side of the building, dangling with the help of Ambrosio as he kicked out the glass to their room. He ducked inside and began to pass his prodigy their items.
“We really need to get out of here,” Ambrosio warned as he helped Pythos climb out of the room.
“Not in the mood for some fun?”
Over the last four years, venting out all of his anger and pain had been the only joy that Ambrosio had known. Burning down cities, taking lives, and gaining wealth was a surge of excitement he craved.
But now someone had recognized him. Someone told him he was going to die. And all of that adrenaline faded away into fear.
“The person I killed knew who I was.”
Pythos smoothed out the wrinkles of his suit jacket and put on his Hat of Disguise. It looked like a simple top hat, but allowed him to transform his appearance at will. “Well, that’s not a problem we can’t fix with fire.”
“She said I was going to die like my dad…”
The warlock frowned. “What exactly did she say?”
Ambrosio struggled to remember the details. “She said that I was going to die soon and when I least expect it, and that it would be as quick and as painful as my dad.”
“This isn’t good.”
“Am I really going to die?”
“An oracle’s prophecy is rarely wrong.” Pythos began to transfer the dozens of Alchemist Fire vials into a smaller sack. “But I’ll figure out a way to change fate.”
“I’m not ready to die! I still have to clear my name; I don’t want to die a murderer.”
“You’re already a murderer, and you’re going to be one again.” He handed Ambrosio the sack. “Start destroying the buildings.”
“But what about the people? We never found a reason to punish them. They’re all innocent until proven guilty.”
“Since when did you start caring about others?” Pythos snapped, turning on him in an instant. “The voices say that they all fear you and want you dead. That is enough guilt for me to justify wiping out a town to keep you and me safe. Remember, you’re a tiefling: an unwanted creature in this world. No one will show kindness to you, so you have no reason to show kindness to others.”
“The barmaid!” Ambrosio argued, his father’s old teachings resurfacing after years of pushing them down into the background. “She wasn’t scare of me, and she treated me like any other customer. In fact she didn’t charge me for my drink or meal.”
“Congratulations, you found one decent soul on this planet,” Pythos barked. “But just because someone is kind doesn’t mean that they can be saved. Did she see you attack the oracle.”
Ambrosio’s shoulders sagged as he looked down at the bottles in his hands. “Yeah…”
“Then she has to die. She is a threat to your wellbeing, and after that prophecy we need to make sure anyone who is seen as a threat is dealt with. The only people we can trust is each other. Do you understand?”
“Now get to work. I want this place in ashes within the hour.” With that, Pythos carefully made his way down the side of the building and took off into the panicked crowd below, his form changing to that of an elf.
Ambrosio reached into the sack and pulled out a bottle. He shook it, watching the fluid slosh around and sparkle. With a bitter frown, he tossed it through the broken window into their room. Then he jumped to the next rooftop to continue his arson spree.
The sun beat down on Ambrosio as he trudged through the swampy fields, careful to hold the edges of his father’s cloak above the mud. Although the ends were starting to fray and pieces of fur were falling off, he tried his best to keep it clean. Despite the heat, he kept the hood up to hide his ever growing horns. They now curled back slightly and were clearly visible to anyone who paid attention to him.
As he reached the edge of the swamp, he could smell the familiar odor of ashes and smoke. The trees parted and he saw the remains of yet another town – this time one that he and Pythos hadn’t destroyed.
No, this can’t be it…
He hastily pulled out his map and smoothed it as he found his location. If he had followed the trails properly, he should be at Thalmelle: the town Pythos had told him to travel to.
“I need you to go this town and collect something for me,” Pythos told Ambrosio a few weeks after his prophecy was revealed.
“What do you need me to collect?” Ambrosio asked as he scratched at his arms to manage with his ever growing anxiety. He had taken one of Pythos’ calming tonics, but it wasn’t helping. His skin was still crawling, like the voices had turned into beetles living under his flesh.
“See this incantation?” His mentor pointed at the page of the spell book on his lap. Ambrosio couldn’t recognize the language and the words looked too worn to read. “It will allow me to siphon magic from one source into you, giving your soul a buffer toward death. I admit, it’s not a true immortality spell. But if we do this repeatedly, we should be able to stack lifespans on top of yours to practically make you live forever.”
Ambrosio knit his brow together, confused by the details. “So you need me to…”
“This town has a rich elf population. As you know, elves live a very long time. I need you to bring one of them back to me.” Pythos handed Ambrosio a bottle and a rag. Ambrosio could immediately smell the contents and dropped the bottle, shattering it. “Careful, that stuff isn’t easy to make.”
“I can’t kidnap someone!” Ambrosio gagged as he covered his mouth and nose. He could never forget the sickly-sweet scent of the tonic that Hendrick had used to try and knock him out.
“Sure you can. You’ve done worse things to survive,” Pythos countered, bending down to clean up the mess. “An elder should be easy enough to overpower. They won’t have as much of their lifespan left to take, but it will do.”
“Take? Oh my god…this spell is going to steal their soul, isn’t it?”
“The spell transfers the life of one creature and adds it to the lifespan of another. That’s how it works.”
Ambrosio shook his head, walking away from his mentor. “This is crazy! I’m not bringing someone back as a sacrifice!”
Pythos sighed deeply. “I know this is hard choice to make, but if you want to avoid a tragic death, you will need to become immortal. With the short time frame given, this is our only feasible chance.”
Despite all of the tragedy, pain, and anger he had experienced in the last four years, he couldn’t bring himself to justify such an act. His parents had saved him when he was an infant. How was he supposed to take someone away from their family to die?
“There has to be another way,” Ambrosio said as he walked over to Pythos’ potions. He dug around for the bottle that would silence the voices reverberating from the rambunctious party in the tavern below.
“Well, you could kidnap a child instead. That would be easier.”
“Absolutely not!” Ambrosio barked, feeling his anger rising like a cobra in his chest.
“I agree, sacrificing children is off the table. But you aren’t strong enough to bring back one of their adults. So, elder it is.”
“Then why don’t you go and do it?”
“Because,” Pythos said slowly and deliberately, “I need to restore this page so I can clearly read the spell, as well as gather the other necessary items to complete the process.”
Ambrosio stood still, glaring at his mentor for suggesting such an awful act. But his fear of the oracle’s prophecy seized his heart with icy tendrils, squeezing out any remnants of morality he had left.
“If I’m going, I’m taking these with me,” he growled, unable to believe that he was going to go through with this. He grabbed the sack of potions from the dresser. “I need them to sleep and to focus.”
“Put that back down. I need those to prepare. Besides, you’ll be traveling on your own. There won’t be any voices for you to pick up. Now hurry back. Time is running out.”
Ambrosio walked through the rubble of the town. There were no visible signs of life, and for the first time in a long time he was upset that he couldn’t hear anyone.
Whatever happened to this place had devastated everything.
“What am I going to do?” he groaned to himself as he kicked a stone across what used to be the main street. Now it was covered in debris. He sat down and rested his head in his hands.
He was doomed.
After sitting in the silence, he got back up and turned to head back from where he came. As he passed by the skeleton of a stone building, he heard a small, hoarse cry.
He froze, and after a few moments he heard it again. He ran over to the wreckage and began to dig around. That’s when he felt the familiar tingle at his temples, the sensation of someone’s thoughts.
“Hello?” he called out. As he moved through the home, he could hear someone calling out. He pushed away the remains of the building and found a trap door buried under the crumbled wall. After clearing it away he opened up the hatch and stared down into the dark hole. He could see the bottom just fine.
“Is someone down there?”
The crying grew louder, and so did the panicked thoughts echoing in his head.
“Hold on, I’m coming!” He jumped down and landed heavily, coughing as dirt kicked up around him. He waved the clouds away with his hand and looked around. The basement was filled mostly of boxes of items, some spare furniture, and survival supplies.
In the corner, he noticed that one of the shelves had fallen over and spilled rations over the floor. Trapped under the heavy shelf was a woman, and beside her a young child – no more than two or three years old – wailing for his mom.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” he asked as he approached. He bent down and saw that she had been crushed under the weight. Her arm was bent at an odd angle, and there was a pool of blood seeping out from her torso. His hands trembled as he checked for a wrist for a pulse. She was still warm to the touch, but stiff.
Killing was one thing, but finding a dead body always brought back nightmares.
Ambrosio turned his focus toward the sobbing child. Even in the dark he could make out the strange hue of red in his irises, and the tips of his elf ears poking out from dusty white hair.
He was reminded of the barmaid he left behind to die.
“Uh, hey, little guy..” Ambrosio said, clearing his throat.
“Mommy is hurt,” the child hiccupped, clutching to a small, tattered blanket.
Ambrosio couldn’t understand elven, but he could tell that the boy was scared. He slowly moved closer, he could see the child’s bones pressing against his thin skin. He had dark circles under his eyes, and he was deathly pale.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m here to help, okay?”
Instead of backing away in fear, the boy reached out to him, too weak to walk. Ambrosio knelt in front of him and picked him up, holding him close. The boy’s fever was so severe, it nearly burned Ambrosio to the touch.
The tiefling remembered the way his brothers used to come to him for comfort whenever they were frightened or sick. They always relied on him for comfort. Tears welled up in his eyes as he carefully made his way out of the basement with the boy cradled in his arms.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you. You’ll be okay…”
Pythos shook his head with disbelief as Ambrosio laid his cloak on the ground and placed the boy upon it. “I can’t believe you actually brought back a child.”
“The entire town was burned to the ground and he was the only survivor,” Ambrosio explained, panting heavily after running back as quickly as he could. Even still, it took a few days to make it back. “I couldn’t leave him there to die.”
“He’s already close to death. I’d give him another few days at most.”
Ambrosio wiped the sweat off his face and sat down next to the child, who had gotten worse during the trip. But he wasn’t going to give up that easily. He couldn’t just let a toddler die. “There has to be something that we can do to save him.”
Pythos shook his head. “What he has can’t be cured. Only the gods can help him now.”
“Then pray to them,” Ambrosio demanded, growing more frustrated at how helpless he was in this situation. “They listen to you, right?”
“The god I pray to wouldn’t waste his time on an infant.” Pythos paused, rubbing his hand over his chin and mouth in thought. “However, an elf may still be useful for us.”
Ambrosio’s stopped and jumped to his feet. “No, you said children were off limits!”
“He’s going to die anyways,” Pythos continued, walking back to their shelter to grab his spellbook and supplies. “We might as well continue with our plans.”
“No, we can find another person…another way to make me immortal.”
“There is no other way. We’re running out of time.”
Ambrosio felt a strange hatred brewing within him. Pythos was willing to go against their code of ethics. They were to only punish the guilty, never the innocent. This child didn’t deserve to die. He felt his eldritch fire sparking between his fingers and clenched his fist, creating a ball of flame around his hand.
“I swear if you hurt him…”
Pythos stopped. For a moment, the space surrounding him seemed to darken. He turned around, and his eyes were dark like tarnished metal. He had never looked so deadly.
“Swear what? That you’ll kill me?”
Ambrosio flinched. He hated that Pythos knew what he was going to say.
“Believe me, if you don’t go through with this spell, you’ll need to be okay with killing in order to survive. You won’t last long with compassion or sympathy.” Then his demeanor shifted again like a passing breeze, and the heavy aura around him seemed to vanish. The corners of his lips turned upward gently into a confident smirk. “But you should be angry. You should want to punish me for my actions.”
Even after four years of being his mentor, Pythos had a way of catching Ambrosio off guard. He followed up criticisms with compliments, and his accusations with praise. Ambrosio could never tell what angle he was playing or what goal he was trying to reach.
Pythos walked over to him, and Ambrosio realized he was almost as tall as his mentor. He no longer had to look up to him, but Pythos radiated power that Ambrosio couldn’t possibly match. He wouldn’t even be able to scratch him if he tried.
“I know these are dark decision to make, but know that I’m only doing this to help you,” Pythos insisted, his gaze softening; gold ingots melting in a forge. “Everything that I have done has been to protect you; and while it has required some sacrifice, I know that the end will justify the means.”
The warlock reached out to take Ambrosio’s arm, and the eldritch fire vanished in response. Even though he was upset, Ambrosio still couldn’t intentionally hurt Pythos. He couldn’t hurt someone he cared about. So Pythos held onto him firmly, as if trying to prepare them both for a difficult choice.
“Without this spell, the oracle’s prophecy will come true. You’ll never live long enough to find out who killed your dad. You’ll never be able to avenge him.”
Ambrosio finally broke eye contact, staring at his feet. Out of the corner of his vision he could see the boy sleeping. He knew that Pythos was bringing up his father because it was his one weakness, the one thing that would make him break all resolve. It was a low blow.
“My dad wouldn’t want this.”
“No, but he would want you to be safe. He would want you to do anything you could to survive. I’m willing to let one suffering child pass away if it means giving you a better chance at living. Are you?”
So, Ambrosio swallowed back his guilt and watched Pythos draw the caster’s circle in the middle of the field. By the time he was done it was nearly sunset, and the air was humid and filled with mosquitos. Ambrosio brushed the mosquitos away from the boy, trying to keep him as comfortable as possible as he withered away.
“Is this going to hurt?”
“We are taking one soul and forcing it into another,” Pythos said as he brushed dirt off of himself. “So, most likely, yes.”
Ambrosio hugged himself, trying to console his conflicted emotions. “I just don’t want him to feel any pain.”
Pythos rested his hand on Ambrosio’s shoulder. “I’ll give him a low dose anesthetic to ease process. Now, go and carry him into the center of the circle while I set up the crystals.”
Ambrosio walked over to the child and carefully picked him up, his movements slow and deliberate as he cradled him against his shoulder. It felt like carrying a bag of sticks: light and brittle, like he could break at any moment.
He stepped back as he watched Pythos set massive chunks of raw crystal around the circle, sprinkling a mixture of salts and ground crystals in between. Drawn into the dirt were the ancient symbols that he had seen in the spell book. His mentor then went to the boy and injected him with a tonic.
With everything set in place, they waited patiently for the sun to fall just behind the ridge of trees, casting the field in shadow. Pythos removed the white gloves he always wore and rolled up his sleeves, revealing the myriad of tattoos stained into his dark skin.
“Are you ready?”
Pythos then began to chant.
Ambrosio didn’t understand the language. It sounded a lot like infernal, which was a language he inherently understood thanks to his bloodline. However, this sounded much darker and chaotic. The words scrambled together, almost as if being reversed and mashed together. It sounded like the voices in his head.
As Pythos chanted, he moved his hands in erratic gestures, each sign quick and deliberate. The tattoos on his skin seemed to glow, different runes and symbols hidden in the design awakening from the magic.
The crystals surrounding glowed with a pulsating light as Pythos’ incantation grew louder and more aggressive. Ambrosio could see heat waves surrounding the circle, shimmering like a protective film.
Lost in the mix of words, Ambrosio thought he heard his birth name, and then Pythos waved his hand at him and he felt a strange tingling sensation crawl over his skin. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were glowing red on his palms.
Pythos pointed to the child. “Go and press your hand against him. Your lifeforce will be transferred into him. Do not pull away until the incantation is complete.”
Ambrosio stepped into the circle and was immediately overwhelmed by stifling heat. He could barely breathe as he approached the child, who was tossing and turning uncomfortably in his sleep.
“Is he in pain?” he called out, but he realized that he couldn’t hear his own voice. There was a zone of silence around the circle.
“Do not distract me,” Pythos ordered in his mind. “Forge the connection.”
Ambrosio looked back, but he could barely make out Pythos’ form outside. His image wavered in the heat, blocked out by shadows that seemed to dance around him. Ambrosio knelt down next to the child, he rolled over onto his back and was gasping for air.
Without thinking, he reached down and cradled his hand against the boy’s face, his hand nearly covering his eye.
There was a jolt up his arm and into his chest, and molten lava filled his veins. His body convulsed as the innocent life of a child was injected to his bloodstream. He jerked his hand back, but found that he couldn’t remove it. All he could do was scream into the soundless void as his vision faded.
He woke up later to rain.
It was the middle of the night. He was still outside in the field, but the caster circle had been washed away from the downpour. Groaning, he forced himself to sit up. He felt like he was filled with lead, and his head was throbbing. Shivering, he pushed himself up and nearly lost his breath as his hand burned. He looked down and saw that there was a mark branded into his skin, the edges red and inflamed.
Carefully he stood, wobbling as his legs felt numb. He slowly stumbled back to the camp. Inside the tent, Pythos was sitting by the fire. The child lay with his head resting on his leg. He was still thin, but color was returning to his cheeks and his chest rose and fell steadily.
“He’s alive?” he asked, his voice raw from screaming.
“So it seems.”
Ambrosio laughed with relief, thankful that the boy managed to live. “It’s a miracle.”
“It’s a curse.” Pythos’ tone was grim. Any joy Ambrosio had felt was sapped away.
“What do you mean?”
“During the incantation, your desire for the boy to survive was clouding your motives. The spell misinterpreted your will. Instead of taking his soul and compounding it with yours, it created an archaic bond between you two. One of protector and protectee,” Pythos explained tersely, staring at the dancing fire.
The young tiefling shook his head with confusion. “I…I don’t understand.”
Pythos pulled out his dagger and dragged the tip against the boy’s arm. Ambrosio felt the pain sear against his skin. He cried out and clutched his arm, watching as a bloody mark was made. When he looked back up he saw that the boy was uninjured.
“The spell made the boy invulnerable: he’s immune to old age, disease, harm, pain…every negative experience is redirected to a surrogate who can manage the distress. You.”
Ambrosio’s head whirled as he tried to make sense of everything. Ancient Bonds. Invulnerability. Surrogates. He held his head in his hands as he began to tremble.
“B-but even I feel his pain, you’re saying that he can’t die. That means I can’t die, right?”
Pythos shook his head. “Your soul was linked only to protect him, not the other way around. If he were to die from disease or wound, you will now die in his place. Only then will he be vulnerable again.”
Ambrosio sat down dazedly. After everything, it didn’t work. The spell was supposed to save him. It wasn’t supposed to link them together. No, this couldn’t fail. It was his only chance. “You just made me more vulnerable than I already was! You said this would save me!”
“It was our only option.”
“You should have warned me!”
“I didn’t know this was a possible outcome!” Pythos squeezed the bridge of his nose with his fingers, trying to reel in his anger.
Ambrosio glared into the fire, squinting as smoke burned his eyes and made them water. His father had warned him that many curses took the form of gilded blessings. This truly was a twisted consequence.
I should have just left him behind. Then I wouldn’t be in this mess.
After several minutes of brooding silence, Pythos reached into his bag to grab medicinal supplies. “Give me your hand.”
Although he was upset, Ambrosio held out his hand. He rubbed at his eyes, trying to stop his tears from falling as Pythos cleaned out the dirt. He then took out a bottle of black ink and mixed it with a healing salve. The ink soaked into his skin as the salve was applied. As the marks darkened, Ambrosio noticed that the burn was the shape of a large triangle made up of three smaller triangles. He recognized it from one of Pythos’ books.
“It’s Asomodeous’ mark,” Pythos answered calmly. “As you know, not everyone is as fond of him as we are. You will need to keep this hidden at all times.”
Ambrosio’s eyes drifted up the tattoos etched into Pythos’ hands. He could now see that they weren’t really tattoos at all, but burns and cuts that were later dyed gold.
“Are those marks from Asmodeous, too?”
“I have done many things in my past that have brought me to where I am today,” Pythos revealed, finally sharing a piece of his past. “These tattoos are reminders of the roads I have taken. This mark on your hand will be your first.”
They both fell quiet, the sound of rain dripping on top of the shelter and the crackle of the fire surrounding them. Even Ambrosio’s mind was silent.
“I promise I will find a way to safely break the bond between you,” Pythos said. “I may have to travel back up north to do research and gather the proper supplies.”
Ambrosio looked back over to the child. Though till asleep from the tonics Pythos had provided, he could feel deep in his soul that the child was getting better. Whatever illness had nearly killed him was fading.
“And the kid?”
“I need you to protect this child at all costs. He literally has your life in his hands. You’re going to continue heading south with him until you reach a town called Dwarvenshire.”
Ambrosio looked over at the child. It was a good thing he had practice taking care of kids. “Why can’t we come with you?”
“You’re a wanted man, both as Eythan and Ambrosio. The last thing we need is to have you heading north while you’re this vulnerable.” Pythos tightly bandaged Ambrosio’s hand, making him wince. “There is a merchant in Dwarvenshire that can help you gain immortality while I try and find a way to reverse the incantation.”
Ambrosio nodded, steeling himself for the journey alone. The stakes were higher now that he had a kid to watch over. “How long will it take to get there?”
“Honestly, it may take a few years. Dwarvenshire is very far south, which will ensure your safety. I will meet you there as soon as I can. If I arrive there before you do, I will wait patiently. I need you to do the same if I’m not there when you arrive. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand.”
“You will also need to take on a new alias, and come up with a reason as to why you’re traveling with the child. Your life depends on how well you can lie.”
A gentle roll of thunder passed over them as the storm broke. His given name had been given to him from his father. His warlock name had been given to him by his mentor. Now it was his turn to give the gift of a name to his new life and to the boy he had damned.
“The boy is my young step-brother. Our parents died in a fire and we are traveling south to find a new place to call home,” Ambrosio rattled off the top of his head, watching as the shadows flickered against the wall of the shelter.
“And your names?”
Their identities came to him quickly, as if brought on by a spark of genius. They were the names of two characters that Tomas had come up with for a short story assignment at school.
“His name is Ciaran, and I am Basile Graywing.”