“Isn’t this splendid, Garron!” He was like a child, his face lit like the sun at noonday. “Garron?”
“Yes, Arena Master.”
“Must you brood? I swear, you are the most miserable man I have ever known!”
A roar sounded from the coliseum floor. Drawing Saetrum’s attention. Garron curled his lip, watching as the six gladiators below them ran for the lives.
They had no chance, Saetrum had left them ill equipped to deal with their latest acquisitions. After a year of searching since losing the previous trio of saberquill to Uxalen, he was being cautious.
“Run!” he laughed. “Run on those squat legs, greenskin!”
The Inquisitor winced. Saetrum was referring to the poor goblin they had bought days ago. A patrol had caught him stealing food. I think the true villain is the one you serve. Garron shook his head and turned away before one saberquill pounced on the poor gladiator. Eleesa’s words were haunting and lately, though subtle, the Flame would spark.
“Leaving so soon?” Saetrum asked.
“I have other matters to attend to.”
“One more year, Garron and you can finally retire,” Saetrum commented.
“One more year… it seems an eternity.”
“Perhaps, but who better to spend it with than me?”
“Who indeed, Arena Master.”
A gong sounded, signaling the slaughter was over. “My public awaits,” he said, his tone light and filled with excitement.
Garron stepped through the archway and began navigating his way into the coliseum’s depths. A year is too long… I don’t think I can stomach much more. The loud clang of metal on metal caught his attention. Garron looked up, realizing he was close to Eleesa’s workshop.
Two Centurions were on watch. After a fight with the regular guard Saetrum had ordered her watched. The poor man she hit nearly died from the beating she gave him.
“Leave us,” he commanded. The centurions saluted and Eleesa paused mid-swing.
“Well, well,” she said. “To what do I owe this illustrious visit?”
“I heard working as I was passing.”
She tilted her head, curiosity crawling onto her face. “I never imagined you’d be interested in the things I forge.”
Garron scanned the room. It was a mess of parts and strange devices. In the corner stood a suit of platemail. Saetrum had it imported. He had grown increasingly obsessed with having golems fight for his entertainment.
“Oh, that?” she asked, limply pointing her hammer at the suit of armor. “About as useful as teaching a troll to read.”
Garron fought back a smile. “He’s getting impatient.”
“He’s a monster. He knows what I need, so until I get it, Saetrum’s hopes are wasted.”
She nodded. “They’re outlawed here, but I have a feeling that won’t stop him.”
Garron clutched his chest. The Flame was stirring. Rule of Law, he told himself. I serve. Here he is the law.
“It eats at you, doesn’t it?” she commented. “That power you have?”
“Part of you can’t stand what he’s doing. You know the law, but your heart tells you another. Perhaps you don’t believe as absolutely as you once did?”
You know nothing! WE are the law; we uphold it! “You shouldn’t talk about things you don’t understand.”
She smirked, then pushed the chest piece she was working on aside. “Do you still hate him?”
She leaned against the granite table, rolling her eyes. “Uxalen. Do you still hate him?”
Garron opened his mouth to speak, but felt at a loss for words.
“You don’t know anymore, do you?” she asked. “Your face says it. You’ve seen him spare life after life, defy Saetrum at every opportunity, and get away with it. You can’t tell me part of you doesn’t feel some satisfaction watching your master squirm in frustration.”
She was so smug and confident. The typical Charnoan. Garron clenched his fist. She was right. Watching Saetrum flail helplessly to appease the crowd was satisfying.
“I hear them scream. Uxalen’s victims. It’s agonizing. I have never heard something so terrible in my years as an Inquisitor. Yet I ask how a murderer of children can show mercy to others now, when he didn’t then.”
“It frustrates you, doesn’t it?” she asked. “You’ve seen him use forbidden magic and assume the worst, yet have you ever asked him about it?”
“What is there to say? That the Flame does not already tell me?”
“I hear you Inquisitors can discern truth from lie,” she said. “Why not ask him? Your people serve as judges from time to time. Judge him yourself. See who is really lying.”
“Why do you care about this sauratian so much?”
Her expression hardened. “Because unlike you, I know his story.”
Garron glanced at the chest piece on the granite slab. There were wires attached to a small box on the inside, around the breast. Large chucks of quartz and other gemstones lay beside it.
“Something else on your mind?” she asked.
She needed to know. “The Inquisition arrested Senator Flaous two weeks ago. They have nullified the details of the arrangement he was negotiating for.”
Her mouth fell open, the color draining from her cheeks. Eleesa stared at floor, her hammer falling from her hands. “What did he do?” she asked softly.
“No one will tell me; the matter is being handled privately. In the public eye, the senator is retiring.”
“Saetrum,” she whispered, lifting her head, tears in her eyes. “He did this!”
“There’s no proof.”
“Are you blind!” she screamed, smashing her Iron Fist against the granite table. The rock gave, crumbling like it was nothing. “He’ll never let me go! Let us go! We make him too much money!”
The Flame surged. Garron took a breath, steadying himself. He felt its heat spread through him.
“Your face betrays you, Inquisitor,” she said, acid in her tone. “You know I’m right.”
“You should get back to work, Eleesa, whatever that is.”
Why not ask him yourself? The question was like salt on a wound. Garron stood before the iron door leading to the cells where Uxalen was kept. “Why does it feel like retirement is slipping from my grasp?” he whispered.
Because the truth often means taking steps beyond what you wish to see.
Garron reached for his temples, a soft prickling sensation poking at them. “Who speaks that I can hear you in my mind?”
You already know that answer.
Garron reached for the door, turning the handle. He winced; the sound of the metal hinges grinding assaulted his ears. He entered the chamber, surprised to see the sauratian wasn’t bound. Instead, Uxalen was seated, legs crossed, hands together and eyes closed, as if he were meditating. The lizardman’s long tail was curled around him.
“Where are your bonds!”
“Saetrum removed them weeks ago.,” Uxalen replied. “The are applied only when I leave this chamber. Theatrics he says.”
Theatrics… Ever the slave of the crowd Saetrum.
“This angers you,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me.”
Garron exhaled, trying to let his outrage pass. “I can hear them whenever I look at you.”
“My victims?” he asked. “What do they say?”
“They simply cry out. It’s an inhuman wail that’s hard to silence.”
“Would killing me ease your suffering?” Uxalen asked. “Would it bring you peace?”
He bowed his head low, eyes still shut, and extended his neck. “If you believe it so, if you believe I am the monster they tell you I am. The monster my clutchmates are screaming about, then act.”
On reflex, Garron reached for his spatha. It would be so easy to unlock the cell and cut off his head. He loosened his grip on the sword and sat on the cold stone floor. “I have questions. You can try to lie, but I will know if you do.”
The prickling sensation on his temples returned.
Then we should speak this way. Otherwise ears that should not hear will catch wind. Uxalen said.
So be it. Let us begin.
Callum glanced back the pair, a chill running through him. When the Inquisitor sent for him, he thought his heart might stop. That Uxalen’s schemes were undone.
It seemed though, after so many months today was the day. Uxalen and Eleesa would be free. Garron appeared conflicted. He was sweating, his hands shaking as if the Inquisitor were in pain.
There were rumors that if a member of the Inquisition went too long without enacting judgement for a crime they knew had taken place, then they would show such signs. Garron appeared ready to burst. His eyes shone with fury and a hint of betrayal.
“How much further Callum?” Eleesa asked.
“It’s not far now, the lower levels are a maze, unless you take time to learn them. It should have dawned on me sooner why Uxalen asked me to get myself stationed down here.”
“It was easy to piece together a way to escape through the sewers from what I gleaned from the other guards mind,” Uxalen commented. “We just needed to wait the proper time.”
They really underestimated you, Uxalen. Your silence and feigned resignation of your circumstances. All of it was ruse, you even orchestrated my freedom.
Callum rankled his nose, they were getting closer to the bestiary. It wouldn’t be long now. After a few more turns and two flights of stairs, he could hear the animals and monsters Saetrum kept under lock and key in their cells.
The set up elaborate, each cell connected to a series of gates and passages that would herd the beasts to the coliseum floor. The exception was Firespite. Her cell was an elaborate elevator. Unfortunately, they would pass the doors leading to it.
“Why are you so nervous, Callum?” Eleesa asked.
“Because I loathe this place, a guard died a week ago down here. No one knows why, but his face frozen in terror. The Beastmaster was at a loss. Saetrum paid for a member of the Arcanum to check the wards placed about their cells to prevent such things. So far, they found nothing.”
The Uxalen’s expression changed, it was subtle, but the way the sauratian’s eyes narrowed said he knew the cause. The hall widened when the rounded the corner and showed a set of stairs at the end of the hall. To their left, the hall ended in a pair of large double doors.
“She’s there, isn’t she,” Uxalen asked.
“She is,” Callum replied. “No one has opened those doors in over a hundred years. They’re too afraid to.”
“How is she fed?” Eleesa asked.
Callum stared at the doors, his lip drawn taut. “I’m surprised you hadn’t guessed.”
“Oh, nevermind,” Eleesa replied, wrapping her arms around herself as if she were cold.
“Shall we go? I’d rather not stand in this hall.”
She nodded just as the gem in her Iron Hand Flared to life. It bathed the hall in a bright red glow, chasing away the gloom. In an instant, the torches in the cradles along the wall were snuffed out. Uxalen stepped ahead of them, his hands bathed in black flame and lips drawn back, his dagger-like teeth showing.
Callum dug his heels into the stone floor, fighting to hold his ground. The sauratian’s appearance seemed more sinister in the crimson light of the firestone gem. Eleesa had slung the thunderer she was carrying from her shoulder and began the stairs behind them.
“What is this?” a deep malevolent voice asked. “Rats at my doorstep?”
The doors to Firespite’s cell opened on their own, Callum covered his ears trying to drown out the painful screech of its iron hinges. Behind the doors were a set bars as thick around as he was wide. Something moved in the darkness, but when it drew closer, Firespite’s enormous head came into view.
“Ahhh… I knew it was you, Uxalen…” she said. “I can hear chanting your name, though I am shocked. You’re not human.”
“We should go, now…” Callum said.
“Go? Where are you going little human?” she asked. “Did I say you could leave?”
Callum gasped. Something had grabbed him. It was like being squeezed in a vice.
“Let him go, Firespite,” Uxalen warned.
“Let him go?” she asked, her voice filled with contempt. “Who are you to tell me, what I should do?”
Callum watched Uxalen step closer, his scales twisting, becoming jagged. A set of horns began growing along the ridges on his head. He looked less like a lizardman and more like a beast from the ancient tales.
“Let. Him. Go,” he repeated.
Firespite tilted her head, as if curious, a slight smile winding its way onto her features. “Now, that is interesting,” she commented. “Someone who wields the power of the Forgotten. I can see it changing you, Uxalen.”
The light from the firestone gem winked out, and the torches relit. Callum took a breath, collapsing onto his hands and knees on the floor. He stared at Uxalen’s back, goosebumps forming across his skin.
What is she talking about?
“Go, little ants, enjoy your freedom,” she smirked. “It seems one of you already wears his chains heavily enough. I wonder which one will die first.”
The great doors to her cell began closing. Callum cringed at the loud screeching of their hinges. In his mind, he couldn’t stop imagining the doors as a lid to a casket made of iron while they closed.
“Can we please go now?” Eleesa nervously asked. “The scrivving dragon is crazy!”
“Follow me,” Callum said, eyeing Uxalen. The lizardman appearance returned to normal, but his scales seemed darker in the torchlight. “It’s not far now.”
The heat was stifling. Each breath was a chore as the Flame inside raged violently. And the screams, they were deafening. He wanted to remove his armor, but that would make it obvious.
Garron stared at Saetrum. The Arena Master lay sleeping on the cushioned he often favored whenever he drank too much. The Inquisitor clutched the pendent Saetrum always wore around his neck. Every impulse screamed such a heretical item should be destroyed.
I can finally hear them, Saetrum. I can see past the veil in your heart. You have done so much.
Garron tossed the pendant aside and stepped closer kneeling before him. The Flame surged just being so close. It demanded justice for what Saetrum had done.
“I cast my eye upon you, and I see your sin. I see the murders, betrayals and lies wrought by your greed,” he said. Garron removed the glove on his right hand, steam rising from it.
Saetrum eyes flung open, horror written his face. He sat up, nearly falling off the bench and clutching his chest. His horror became panic when his eyes fell to the pendent.
“Yes Saetrum, I know,” Garron said, standing over him. “I know everything. That item of yours. The one your father kept so close. It makes sense now. That is why he always requested for Inquisitors looking to spend their last days before retirement to be stationed here.”
“How?” Saetrum asked. “How did find out?”
“I once told you that Eleesa and Uxalen would be the end of you,” Garon replied. “Now it seems my prediction has come true.” Garron knelt, taking the Arena Master’s face with his right hand. “Be Purged and make your sins known to me.”
Saetrum screamed and Garron became lost as the Flame surged from him and into the Arena Master. The only thing his senses registered was the smell of burning flesh and Saetrum’s cries for mercy.
It had been two days since their escape, but Eleesa still couldn’t shake the uneasiness in her stomach. The monastery at Hadath seemed the safest place to hide. Callum said the monks took in travelers, granting them food and shelter. The Inquisition was also forbidden to enter the grounds. It was part on ancient agreement they had with the monks.
Uxalen had been quiet, spending a great deal of time with the monks since their arrival. They were quite welcoming to him. He’d spent the last day learning their meditations and about their beliefs.
“He’s troubled you know,” Callum said as he walked up. “He carries a huge weight on his shoulders and only lets you see what he wants you to.”
“I know, but I can’t just leave Uxalen alone now. I don’t think I’d be standing here if it wasn’t for him.”
Callum nodded. “Neither would I. So, whatever had planned or is trying to do, I will help him.”
“He’s searching for something and he won’t stop until he finds it.”
“Then where do we head next?” Callum asked.
“How you feel about the cold?” His expression was priceless. At the mere mention of Sokoras, most Absonians would instinctively shudder.
“I met a small band of orcs traveling to a region of Sokoras where they claimed their kind were welcome. Their leader had some strange ideas, but when I mentioned them to Uxalen months ago, he took an interest. I think, they might have the answer to what he seeks.”