The Burning of the Light
In the Dark Cells deep beneath the halls of the Thousand, the Ambassador of Onrushing Shadows was deprived of all sense of time. There was no frame of reference for that or anything else in his existence, save the beating of his own heart, but that had died long ago, and must therefore be a lie. A memory, recalled as a hallucination in the complete absence of stimulus.
He had enjoyed the torture. Or, if not enjoyed it exactly, he had at least gotten off on it. But half the fun of such activities was, of course, in the spirit of the thing, and the First and Forsaken Lion had not been in a mood to play at such diversions.
No… no candle wax and bindings and cunning little knives from him. Just fire. Black flame drawn in by some artifice of the mountain from the places where Creation’s burning southern pole touched the necrotic essence of the Underworld; channeled into implements that froze and burned and pealed until a man must find himself buried in an avalanche of pain.
Even had there been a rhythm to go by, the Abyssal knew he would long since have lost track of the time. It just wouldn’t have mattered. But some distant inner sense told him it had been just days, rather than the years it had seemed as it was happening.
Light flooded into his cell. Intellectually, he knew it was faint – the distant spirit-aura shed by a ghost as it opened the door – but to his starved mind it was like looking into the face of the Sun. Beautiful and unbearable in equal parts.
In the lambent glow, he examined himself. When he looked on his hands and arms he saw no scars, only smooth, pale flesh. This was rather unexpected, for though he knew techniques he might use to heal himself, their magic had been far beyond his grasp since the moment his master had asserted his will.
He raised his hands to his eyes, instinctively seeking to clear them of whatever illusion so deceived his vision, and screamed the scream of a man who has seen the realization of impossible nightmares. The death of all life’s joy. He could feel nothing. Not the brush of hands on face or face on hands, and not even the pain in his throat as he poured out his anguish.
He cried. He raged madly until he heard his own voice crack and fail, and then raged a while longer in silence, as the ghost jailor stood by with the patience of the mindless dead. His body was stiff from shaking, his muscles were weak, exhausted by wracking convulsions of anger, and the very fact that he could not feel the bone deep ache within them only reminded him… only reinforced…
After a time, he rose on unsteady knees. The corpse guard turned and began to shuffle away, and the Ambassador followed. His eyes burned like flickering ghost-lights, filled with unfamiliar emotions he could not describe. He wanted many things. More things than he could begin to articulate, but most of all he wanted Oblivion. He knew of nothing else that could quell what he felt inside him. It was the only possible release for him now.
When the specter brought him before his Liege, he gathered himself up, stoking the rage in his heart. His magic would be a futile waste here, against this creature, but with the right words said: the right insults offered, the right passions inflamed and trampled upon, he hoped…
But the First and Forsaken Lion spoke first, “I see you have discovered the nature of your punishment. Good. May you rot with it. I have chosen,” he bit the word off with obvious distaste, seeming to imply that his choice was nothing of the kind, “to spare your pathetic existence, but I have no use for disloyal lieutenants, and like the rest of your Caste you are unreliable above all else. And so you will serve me as best you can in… other duties.”
The Ambassador scrambled in vain for some way to recover this situation. Some way to enrage his master, to convince his Liege to consign him to Oblivion. Then his eye lit upon a small parcel set on the table between them – a pin, it’s backing a disc of soulsteel set with stars of moonsilver and orichalcum and starmetal, and a pair of familiar bracelets cast in starmetal and gold.
Slowly, his eyes rose to the armored slit of his master’s visor, and fixed there. The man – the monster – across from him seemed to regard him with a mocking and wicked grin, impossible to see behind his armored face plate, but impossible to miss in every detail of his body language. “You thought that the nature of your… relationship with your sifu had escaped my notice?”
The Lion laughed, a deep, metallic, mocking laughter that drove like a spear of ice through the Ambassador’s soul. He had not even considered.
“Take these, she would have wanted to you to have them.” the armored Deathlord said, sardonically, “Let them serve as a reminder that the price of betrayal is more than you can bear.”
“And guard them well. You would do well not to find yourself in my presence again – the forbearance of the Neverborn is not indefinite, and I would be only too happy to destroy you and see if something more useful could be forged from the remnants…” the Lion let his voice trail off, ominously, “but should I see you again, and you do not have these little reminders, your fate will be beyond your imagining.”
Across the table, the First and Forsaken Lion stood expressionless. Silent. Reeking of malice and smug self-satisfaction. The Ambassador of Onrushing Shadows held his face very still, as the anger welled up inside of him, and as he turned on his heal and left, he realized that his desperate longing for the Void had been eclipsed by something else: the smoldering, calculating, all consuming desire for revenge.