Flash Fiction: A Boon of Opportunities

Old sweat and bubbling stew filled the abandoned farmhouse with their potent presence as the circle of mercenaries let a lull step between the lines of discussion.  There was a third scent and Chasiel, the Bloody Dove, could practically bite into it.  Anticipation.

“So,” said the lean and gray-haired man to her right, “you think it’s likely?”  Half his face bore the scars of a burning accident when he was a young man.  Whatever his real name was, Chasiel did not know it.  He had only ever been called Crisp to her knowledge.

Crisp’s question was not directed towards her but to the bull of a man across from her.  Feller Crowne held the honor of longest tenured among the miscreants making up the dozen or so Shivering Souls.  “Without question,” Crowne said in his high voice, famously unexpected to those who first met him.

Fenroe, to Chasiel’s left, was next to speak.  “Breshtk is broken.  Good opportunity to get our fingers in there and feel around.”

Chasiel smiled, knowing Fenroe could not help himself and his knack for using colorful phrases in any situtation.  He would try to make his grandmother blush if given the opportunity.  Chasiel took the small piece of kindling and set its end into the flames of the cook fire, eyes mesmerized by the flickering flames.

Crowne coughed.  “I care more about seeing who comes out alive once the dust of this hell storm settles…  The Holds may turn on Breshtk but it’s not weak.  Not in the least.  As long as Wielders live and Ki’Tanil, bastard fool that he is, breathe, Breshtk can come out of this mess.  Chasiel,you’re too quiet?”

She had kept silent, biding her time.  The constant talk of Breshtk and whatever nonsense the kings and queens of the Holds were bickering about had gotten bland on her tongue.  What did interest her however were opportunities to go unseen where otherwise eyes would be watchful for sell swords.  The sound in her throat preceded her words.  “The Silver Way had the contract and now we have it.  This noble of Teras expects mercenaries.  We can mimic that stupid symbol of the Silvs and do what we please once we’re sent on our merry task.”

“A boon of opportunities,” Fenroe said before whistling.

Crisp tok the handle of the stirring spoon in the cookpot and blew on the creamy meal.  Crowne rubbed at his eyes after some smoke invaded the brown orbs.  “A boon perhaps but still a damn risk.”

Chasiel agreed but preferred to think of it as more than opportunities to take gold out of the pockets of the Teras coffers.  No, for her, she saw a window to hamstring the noble bastards who continued to play their privileged game.  After she inhaled the segda smoke from her pipe, her namesake throat sound followed, serving as the reminder of her rage.

Flash Fiction: A Search for Light in the Night

A wildfire in the heart of a great forest was a dreadful power.  For Damrin Graeves, that was the only comparison he could equate to the breaking of the Wielder’s Council.  Rogue Wielders had never been an uncommon occurrence in the world but the number of those allied and bound to the Shoal Oaths kept those flames from spreading.  Now, however, there were too many flames and they were being fed by pride, promises, and the Hallowed knows what else.

His options were limited.  He could not reach out to Wielders he called friend.  Since Kesree’s betrayal–his closest of allies–he had to select his movements more carefully.  Too much use of his Shoalway, Qorum, and he would likely draw attention.  Wielders could detect the power from a fair distance away but they could not be everywhere.  So, many Wielders had trained and hired agents tucked away in all sorts of corners and pockets of the Holds, waiting to feel the stinging sensation in their teeth.  Sensors, they were called.  Damrin had refused to employ such people for he had no need to keep eyes and ears on his brethren.

It had taken longer than he wanted, but he reached his room, held by the grimacing innkeeper, Goel Begeen, after traveling by foot.  It had been the first time in three decades since he walked such a distance without touching his Shoal and it had been arduous to say the least.  The village of Nemeck in the Teras Hold had been one of several hiding places he kept secret.  Only Kesree had known of his corner room in Goel’s inn, The Commoner.

Days of rest had been needed after his journey.  Once there, he had removed the collection of manuscripts, ledgers, and maps hidden away in the ceiling.  His eyes moved over one such map where he made notes and drew symbols based on a personal cypher not even Kesree had known about.  Some secrets had been kept.

The list of names and affiliations on the narrow piece of parchment was complete and thorough but he needed to know which of those names still drew breath and which way they leaned in this ominous war.  For Damrin, he needed to find an ally and quickly.  Too many were dying and fresh rumors sprouted from the earth as Wielders killed each other and kingdoms fell.  Truth slipped from his fingers but a net could succeed where his hands failed.

Flash Fiction: “Guarded Offerings”

The melodic voices of the unmarried women of the Ajjuun beat against the outer walls of Hijeneva’s maiden hut.  Per tradition, her peers circled around her dwelling as she sat in silence, examining the gift offerings provided by the unmarried men of the tribe.  They sought to woo the celebrity born from the triumph of collecting the bones of a deceased god.

Baskets lay before her on the collection of cow skins that made up her hut’s floor.  In each of the twenty or so bend-wood woven containers were weapons, supplies, and armor crafted by the men who hoped to be her husband.  The quality of each marked each young man’s value.  She did not know whose name was attached to each basket of gifts.  The anonymity leant itself to the expected surprise of a worthy mate.  So was the Ajjuun way.

Too often, her mind strayed to wonder if Imko was the owner of the basket gift but the tragic death of her friend breached her forgetfulness to give sting to her swollen heart.

Despite the proposals before her—a grand example of her value to the tribe—she was drawn more to the laid out items taken off of the corpse she managed to pilfer in the clearing weeks ago.  The body had been burned and the ruined clothes buried but it was the other items she now possessed that grasped her awe and curiosity.

She did not touch the items but used iron prongs belonging to her father to take each and place them in her hut.  Inside a finely crafted box upon a polished stand, placed in a row were the four shining coins, an armlet fit with a dull gold-colored stone set in it, and a small hand mirror made of silver.

From several feet away, she could sense the power imbued in each item.  The functionality or level of each had not been discovered yet but she would learn the secrets they possessed.  She considered each basket and wondered if the one she chose would serve in the discovery.  Would a potential husband be willing to risk his life to earn her proposal?  The thought gave birth to a smile and a growing plan.

Flash Fiction: “A List of Knives”

One name remained to be added to the list before Oran Ki’Tanil, Battle Lord of Breshtk Hold, general to Queen Erise’s armies, would allow himself to attempt sleep that night.  The small piece of parchment on his writing table mocked him.  Of the eight names written in his own hand, not one was a man or woman he would share a meal with let alone trust to carry out a portion of the plan meant to bring balance and justice to the field.  None of the collected killers were trustworthy and yet he had been tasked by his queen to compile them.

Duty and conviction did not always share a marriage bed together.  A cold, coarse sheet lay between them.  Oran rarely believed he had a true choice in the matter of either.  A Battle Lord was sworn, life held in chains, to his Hold.  Orders were never to be questioned unless asked but he wondered if those were truly orders then?

He pressed the wet nib of the quill to the parchment, deciding between two names that would be the last to go on the list of knives.  The Holds had their fair share of trained assassins.  Those beholden to any true code were not included on this list.  He raised the quill, leaving a pooled mark of ink, and reached for his cup of wine, drinking the sweet nectar of the Hallowed, hoping it would dull his convictions.  It did not.

His thoughts shifted to the adamant disapproval of the Wielder, Delya Glassene.  Little could be sifted through the mere presence of the woman.  Her oaths were questionable and motivations obscure.  Anytime Oran looked into the gray eyes of the Wielder, he felt as if nothing could be rightfully gathered, but tumbled like dice in a cup.

However, her push for Queen Erise to abandon her plan was all but stringent, giving no care or worry for protocol.  Her agreement only came after Oran raised his voice and threatened the Wielder’s life–a less than proud moment.  Doing so hammered the nail in the wall between them if such a wall could exist.  He preferred the obstacle; a Wielder could not and should not be trusted.  The Shoals could twist and curse the world if they remained open too long.  A Wielder was the only line of defense.  He knew too little but had begun to desire to learn more simply out of caution, which was his nature.

Oran Ki’Tanil had one choice in the matter.  He must finish the list and add a name to make the nine killers final.  They would be collected by Delya and set loose on Queen Erise’s enemies.  “Hallowed forgive me…” he said under his breath, setting the quill back to the parchment and writing the last name, his head a fog from the wine and his guts twisted in anguish.

Flash Fiction: “Healed but Broken”

Scars serve as vicious reminders.  That pink, puckered skin where a blade lacerated either shallow or deep let the wearer remember the mistake or drop in guard everyday.  It could be concealed but always felt underneath cotton, silk, or armor.  For Barston, however, his scars were underneath the skin.

Scars of the conscious were just as bloody as the day they were incurred.  Never forgotten unless you were dead and pressed in by the earth from all sides.  Only then did peace prevail and true rest commence.

The merchant was close, waddling along the dirt floor of the loading lot of the capital as he inspected the men who showed in response to his request for guards.  The roads between the Holds were no longer safe, not since the murder of the princes of Breshtk.  Barston did not cry anymore for both Jarun or Dovam.  Those tears had dried up days after his banishing.

Gray-bearded, heavy set, and smelling of wine even in the early hours of the day, the merchant came face to face with him.  A squinting eye peered deep into Barston’s face.  “You seem the soldiery type,” he said, breath a warm, sour cloud.

Barston felt the eyes of the other hired men fall in unison upon him, checking to see if they could determine what called for the merchant’s comment.  He felt the itch to speak.  “No longer, sir.”  It was not truly the correct response and awkward once he heard the words leave his mouth but it was all he could muster.

The merchant’s squint did not dry up.  “You’ll do.  I see the dagger in your boot.  Your sword?”

Hoping not to have to share his shame, Barston reluctantly took the hilt and pulled it slightly out of the scabbard revealing the blade.  He said nothing.

“Good.”  The merchant stepped back to address the group of eleven hired guards.  “We leave in an hour for Rastome; take care of what you need to.  I don’t have to emphasize the dangers as the Holds continue to unravel.  You damned well better be ready to draw and defend these wagons.  Go on.”

Barston ignored but noticed the other ten guards shaking hands in congratulations for the employment and setting out to put their affairs in order.  He did not extend his hand or leave though.  He already possessed all that he needed.  No salutations, supplies, or urges were necessary to fulfill on his part.  All that he needed was in tow.  He tested his leg, healed by a Wielder, denied the scar he deserved.  But, the searing reminder of shame and guilt of his failure could not be healed.  Nothing would deny him that scar.

Flash Fiction: “Trust in the Dust”

Red and orange dirt rose in the air, forming a cloud of fire gently falling to the wet cream-colored canvas tapestry laid on the stained floor.  The motes showered along the surface in a pattern unlike any other.  It was the practice of a dust seer, using the fine granule sands found in desolate parts of the Navastle Desert.

Teelee stared in wonder as she kept pressed into the corner of the dust seer’s hut.  Her older brother stood alongside the old seer whose white robes had long since collected flecks of the fire sand, making the man a story unto himself.  She tried not to stare at the seer’s robes whenever she tagged along with her brother but struggled, which often earning the ire of the seer, whose name was Shotra the Twig on account of his slim, bony stature.

“What do you see, boy?” the seer asked.  Along with his robe, his leathery hands and arms were just as stained.  His long nose curved down and slightly to the side.  All hair that remained were wisps of white strands collected at the base of his skull.  Sweat shined along his pate and taut face from the sunlight piercing through the gaps of the boarded walls of the hut.

Teelee’s brother, Dag, bent down as the dust settled in the shades of fire along the tapestry.  His cheap shirt and trousers collected the fire dust as well but their mother’s incessant washing faded the stained material.  He hummed something of uncertainty, trying his hardest to continue on as Shotra the Twig’s apprentice.  If he failed at this apprenticeship, he would have to find another which likely meant having to join the other boys his age water seeking.

“Come now!” Shotra the Twig barked.  “What does the dust say?”

“What’s a Shoal?” Teelee asked.  She had not realized she moved away from her corner, unseen by either her brother or the seer, and toward the canvas as words on the tapestry became clear to her.

Shotra the Twig twisted around to castigate her but stopped short.  He turned back to look on the tapestry himself.  Not speaking directly at her, he said, “What do you see, girl?”

She hesitated, finding Dag staring a blaze of flames at her but the dust seer looked on the verge of grabbing her.  “Disruptions,” the word was strange on her tongue, not entirely sure of its meaning.

“Disruptions in the Shoals.  Violations.  Welders–”

“Wielders,” Shotra the Twig corrected.

Teelee did not know the word or context but trusted him.  None made sense to her; the words laid there on the tapestry, swirled and jagged, but clear and concise.  “Wielders violate the constructs of the Shoals.”  She smiled but her brother, whose eyes filled with tears, made the emotion of excitement die away.

Shotra the Twig turned to look down on her, ignoring her brother who pouted openly.  “Hallowed be praised…  Boy, leave.  Girl, you will stay.”  He readied the tapestry, pouring water across the cream surface for another reading.

Teelee sniffed and sneezed into her hands, excited but terrified of the anger growing in her brother’s eyes.  He would find a way to hurt her; she knew it, but she could not resist reading the dust.

Dag left and Teelee watched as the new batch of fire sand rose in the air by Shotra the Twig’s exaggerated motion, a fresh jubilant air about him.  Her eyes watched the dust floated down, streaks of fire settling, forming words.  Some were the same as before and some were new.

Flash Fiction: “The Bloody Dove”

Chasiel stopped and stepped backwards to look down the narrow street deep in the Weavers Ward in the city of Khamda.  Night cast shadows all about the mottled-stone corridor but she could see the two men easily enough.

Smoke from her exhale curled around her face, pipe bowl glowing as she sucked in soon after.  A hum of sound in her throat followed.

The men faced each other, one slapping at the other in obvious intimidation fashion.  Chasiel would never think to intervene in such a common scene in the gloomy wards of Khamda but the slapping man’s attire drew her attention upon recognition.

Smoke continued to drift from her mouth and caress her face as she approached the abuser and his victim.  The sweet scent of the sigda leaf filled her nostrils.

“Help!” the bloody-faced man cried, hands raised to protect his face from further injury.  Common by his appearance, he did wear at his waist one of the leather kits used by runners to keep writing supplies on hand and ready at a moments notice.

With a twist, the other man turned to see who approached, as Chasiel did not change her footing to a quieter step.  Dark hair and beard hid his features but the three intersecting silver rings sewed into the sleeves of his jerkin marked him a mercenary belonging to the Silver Way Band.  “What’s this–”

His question could not be finished as Chasiel lashed out with a combination of punches to his lower back, aiming for the kidneys, and finishing with a grab and throw technique she had recently learned from Fenroe who would receive a well-deserved “thank you” the next time they saw each other.

The bruised runner trembled in shock at witnessing his attacker being bested by a woman no doubt.  Once he came to his senses, he began to sputter thanks.

Chasiel waved him off.  “Give me whatever contract he had been offered.”

The man winced.  “What?”

She blew smoke in his face, ignoring his coughing.  “The contract.  Give it here.”  She snapped her fingers at him.  The humming sound in her throat followed and the runner’s eyes widened before dropping to her throat where he finally noticed her choker and the pendant that rested cold against her skin.

“Damned whore,” the Silver Way mercenary growled as he rose to his feet, still in pain but reaching for a dagger at his waist.

Chasiel reacted in kind, pipe stem pinched between her teeth, as her hands shot for the hooked blades sheathed behind her back.

Dead men screamed, grunted, and/or pissed themselves when the clutches of the Hallowed seized their soul.  Men of the infamous Silver Way were no different.  Blood flew from her slashes and pooled on the old cobbles at her feet.

“The Bloody Dove,” the runner whispered.

Chasiel nodded.  “I’ll have that contract.  Then you can go.”  Placed in her outstretched hand, she unrolled the thin paper and read, finding the details both interesting and enticing.  “Hallowed be Praised,” she said through smoke and leaving the runner alone with the dead.

Flash Fiction: “Separate From the Sorrows”

 

Gasping breath invaded his stinging lungs, feet slipping on the glass-formed ground where the Shoalway opened for him to exit the harsh environment of his Shoal, Qorum.  Always, the elements of the other realm challenged his body and mind–still in ways the scholars and Wielders did not fully understand.

His wounds required attention.  Cuts stung, slashes needed sutures and burns demanded salves.  The Wielder, Damrin Graeves, surveyed his body wherever the pain emitted from, revealed by the rips and singed parts of his once fine clothing.  The fight had been unexpected.  His hands shook, fingers clenched into hard fists.  Tears streamed from his eyes down his cheeks, stinging throughout their trails.  Not from the pain–no–but from the betrayal he had just survived.

There in the abandoned courtyard of stone and overgrowth in the dead city of Hasselor, Kesree baited him repeatedly like a man mad with deceptive intent.  His vile words, lined with poison, echoed in Damrin’s mind.  His friend…one of many years since they first encountered one another in the Wielder’s Congress.  How had it all unraveled like frayed rope?

Damrin dug his fingers into the dirt of the field outside the capital city of Talloe of the Hold, Teras.  Birds sang beautifully around him, mocking his heartbreak.  Kesree had managed to slip away to his Shoal but he could not have lived.  The wounds he had suffered were far worse–fatal to the body.  Passing through the Shoalway to wherever he ended up in the world was a desperate risk.  The Shoals did not coddle or pity the Wielders able to bridge the world by their power.

Losing his dear friend would leave a wound that would never heal but the confrontation between them was a slow-moving agony.  The betrayal drove his thoughts to consider the turn of events.  If Wielders were turning against one another, then war was surely churned up in the garden of peace.  He had to seek out allies, but knew the chance of further deception was likely.  He needed his mind and body to be healed completely, forcing himself to be ready in an instant.

A small opening to his Shoalway appeared before him, earth melting to glass underneath.  He gazed into the portal, able to look through the haze of power to an atmosphere of peril.  Even a small opening was large enough to let out some of the most dangerous threats that dwelled within Qorum.  But he needed it open.  Only then could he draw out the current of power, healing his wounds.

Flash Fiction: “God’s Bones”

The smoldering corpse lay just outside the center of the destroyed thicket.  The melted ground a foot from the body’s collapsed position revealed it to be a man or woman possessed prior of great power.  The Ajjuun had no name for these things but the whispers of “gods” did come from time to time.

Hijeneva ground her teeth while waiting in the humidity.  Signs of the early morning duel could not be ignored.  The trees and vegetation bore singed ends and deep cuts from unfamiliar weapons. She watched the young man–brave and bold–begin his attempt forward.

Imko’s first few steps boasted courage, produced by confidence none of the young warriors in the thicket lacked.  Why would they not?  The bodies of their dead brothers, sisters and friends who had tried to approach the corpse at all different angles did not find death until they crossed an invisible threshold some few feet away from the looting opportunity.

Nine had died so far.  Imko would be the tenth though none would warn him to avoid the fatal fate.  To do so was against the ways of the Ajjuun.  Bravery was never questioned aloud but in her head, Hijeneva begged him to stop.

Perhaps it was bravery that made Imko refuse to stop at the line and consider another option.  Perhaps it was his desire to impress them all and secure a wife for his next name day.  Perhaps, it was the will of the fallen god.

Imko stopped in mid-step and his body jerked violently until he spasmed so hard an audible snap of bones drowned out his scream.  Far before he fell to the ground, the tenth of them died.

Hijeneva’s heart tweaked in pain, the loss of another–a friend–was never as simple as the death itself.  Her aversion to look upon the fresh corpse of Imko drew her gaze upwards where she could see the overhanging branches of the hosta tree.  Strong and able to hold a grown man’s weight, they extended all the way to where the god lay.  A wall could not be pushed through but it could be cleared.

The fathers and mothers who waited back in the tent grounds did so in anticipation.  Did they know or fear their children died within the crucible?  Would there be crying?  Or would the way of stone be practiced even then?  She could hear the names of their own gods being cursed for their cruelty, unafraid of being stricken with sickness or drought.  The Ajjuun may be considered primal by many in the world of the civilized Holds but they were not denied the capacity to challenge the highest of powers that governed their loyalty and worship.

Hijeneva spoke a prayer in the waning silence.  Someone would announce their intent to follow Imko and she knew it had to be her.  To save the lives of those remaining, to scavenge what could be potentially invaluable to their survival in the days to come and–least important to her–to attract the eyes of a suitable husband.

“I’ll go,” she declared, plan barely formed but knowing her attempt might be what was needed to collect the god’s bones.

Flash Fiction: “Binding Slight”

The strolling occupants of the corridors and stairwells separated at the sight of the general–a salmon swimming against the current.  His cape flowed like a whipped flag in the high winds of the Mestansa Sea.  All eyes avoided his, not daring to touch upon the war-battered irises of a Battle Lord.Oran Ki’Tanil barely took notice of the man struggling to stay beside him.  The flow of traffic did not pay him any mind.

“It’s true then?” asked Dhamsho Hivin, a treasurer to the Hold of Breshtk.  “You spoke to the sole survivor.”  Not a question–a realization.

Oran frowned, saying nothing, refusing to until he stood in the Observum atop the capital conservatory.  His mind flooded with each step, forming plans along with responses and questions.  Scenarios of the most dire brood hatched from their shells of fear and worry.  Duty called him to action but he feared what that entailed both for the people of Breshtk and his thousands of soldiers.

The Observum’s domed architecture spun with the powers manifested from the Shoal to the Hallowed called Fensaeng.  Its Wielder, Delya Glassene, wrapped in her green robes pinned tightly by silver crystals turned to him as he entered but said nothing.  Somewhere along the way, the treasurer had broken away, not daring to enter the room filled with Shoal power.

In front of the Wielder shone a suspended viewer with its twelve glass sides, able to be rotated at will by her alone in order to look upon other places in the world.  An orb for spying on their would-be allies.  Had news reached the other Holds?  How long before messages would be received to offer condolences?

Oran did not trust the use of such power but put aside his prejudices, settled now for the first time in his life to seek the aid of a Wielder.  The shivering across his teeth could be ignored for the time being.  That could not be avoided by anyone unless they were a Wielder themselves.  “It’s true,” he told Delya.

She watched the current side of the viewer where a bird’s eye view of the capital city of Charun, pressed in to the compound grounds of the Hold’s military.  Hundreds of men stood in perfect lines at attention while an imposing figure sat upon a warhorse addressing his soldiers in vigorous speech.  Sound did not come through the viewer, something that Oran would have preferred.  Alas, he had little knowledge and understanding of the Shoals and their power.

“Wielder Glassene,” Oran said, attempting to gain her full attention.  “The heirs of the Breshtk Hold are dead.  Such acts…  Another Wielder has broken the Hold’s Treaty–”

“You should seek allies, General Ki’Tanil.”  She moved her hands in front of the viewer, rotating it slowly so Oran could bear witness to multiple Hold armies assembled in what appeared to be war preparations.  “We will need the best defense possible if the other Holds move against us.”

Knees close to buckling, Oran Ki’Tanil, Battle Lord of the Breshtk Hold, whispered a prayer to the Hallowed for help he doubted would come.

Flash Fiction: “Dousing of the Bonds”


Hail peppered the wet earth along the country highway, afternoon light dismissed by the thickened fog wall ringing the guards and carriage.  Past the barrier, a sun-soaked path teased what could be.  Pine and birch alike stood at the outer edge of the cold mist, forced to bear witness to the attack.

The falling ice pinged off the battered armor of the five remaining guards, their breaths fast and hard, waiting for the next onslaught of their hidden foe.  Puddles rippled, blood and mud mixed in a sickly color, where the bodies of the fallen lay in wait for a burial unlikely to come.

Barston checked his leg but knew it was either fractured or a clean break.  He thanked the Hallowed that the bone did not jut from his flesh.  The deep cold of the circle stung his skin, steel of his chain mail biting.  Clouds of his breath seemed to crystalize in the air in front of him.

Whimpers from within the carriage, front wheels shattered to splinters, pulled him back to the fray.  The desire to tell the boys inside to flee the scene pecked at him but that just promised a sooner death for both.  His fingers brushed frost from the mark on the carriage door.  Blood froze in long trails against the sigil of House Fellel.

He would have asked Jaers what they should do but his friend lay three feet away, having bled out minutes ago.  Who still lived?  Every movement was a struggle.  “Krin,” he chattered through the deepening cold.

“Shut your teeth!” came a desperate, fearful response.

The bridgeway from the Shoals to the Hallowed had opened near them so quickly and without warning that none of the twelve guards could have reacted in their favor.  Whoever the attacking Wielder was, they knew a war would follow in direct response to his or her treachery.

A shiver spread through Barston’s teeth starting at the molars to the front before the strikes came.  Screams followed as he twisted around, propped against the carriage, sword hilt frozen in his gauntleted hand.  One by one, needles and corkscrews of ice pierced frost-bitten flesh, finding the gaps between steel and mail.

The twist of fear, urged him to run away but the pain searing through his leg drove him to unconsciousness after two steps, falling face down into the puddle of Jaers’ blood.

Breath came like an icy wind, his chest heaving in pain.  His bones and muscles numb, skin near blue.

The Wielder stood over him, pleased at his atrocity–an artist convinced of a masterpiece.  Arcane armor covered him from head to toe.  Etchings of symbols twisted throughout while quiet prayers broke from his lips, hidden by helm and visor.  Dark eyes turned to regard Barston.  “You will remain alive to tell the tale,” he said before Barston fell unconscious again, wishing only to die.