September 10th, 2013 • The mainland across from Avigdell
Moving with the speed of a bolting stag, Lask went tearing through the woods after Falient. Behind him, Wyatt’s gun made quick work of the Dark scouting party. Lask could see the flapping hem of the hunter’s black leather coat through the trees ahead of him. Lask’s long legs sent him flying over the forest floor, and his sword sent bark spraying as he vaulted over a fallen tree. He circled out wide, keeping the sprinting shape of Falient in his peripheral vision, then darted to the left, losing sight of the hunter. Lask shifted into a full sprint, racing through the trees, ducking into a rainwashed gully and following it around.
He stopped behind a thick trunk, forcing his breath to be slow and quiet. He heard a final shot from Wyatt’s gun in the distance as he made no sound, listening to Falient’s pounding steps charging up behind the tree. Waiting until the hunter was upon him, Lask whipped his sword out from behind the tree, and the flat of the blade connected with Falient’s chest like a lead pipe, clotheslining him and sending him into a tangle of flailing limbs and leather. Falient scrambled upright with a sword point at his chin, and looked up the blade to find Lask’s blazing eyes holding him captive. The hunter flashed a nervous smile.
“Fancy meetin’ you here,” he said. He had a jaunty sort of accent, perhaps Australian.
Lask prowled out from behind the tree, turning his blade, moving to stand in front of Falient, with the point of his sword keeping his captive’s chin up.
“What brings you here?” Lask replied, mimicking the hunter’s pleasant tone.
“Nice day for a jog,” Falient replied.
Lask arched an eyebrow.
“Lookin’ for you, naturally,” Falient said, trying again.
“More than that,” growled Lask. “I have watched you for some time. You work for Daleroth–”
“Not anymore I don’–”
“–and,” snarled the Luminor, sparking at the interruption, “I know you moved this way on purpose. Why?”
“Myyyyyyybe,” drawled Falient (“maybe” Lask understood), “We could have this conversation somewhere a little less,” he gestured at the sword, “Tense.”
“Turn around,” Lask commanded. There was a click as Wyatt cocked one of his guns nearby, having found them. The gunslinger emerged from the trees, exchanging a look with Lask.
“Of course, sire,” Falient said. He turned to face the muzzle of Wyatt’s gun, and Lask pressed the sword point between his shoulders, while Wyatt drew them a door back into the lower levels of Del Sayronet.
Once in the dungeon, Lask chained his prisoner to the wall while Wyatt kept his gun trained on their uninvited guest. With Falient was secure, Lask stepped back and examined him. He was a smaller man than Lask had expected, perhaps only 5’9” with wavy dark brown hair pulled to a ponytail he had draped forward over one shoulder. He had brown eyes and a bit of facial scruff, and though his face was mostly clear, Lask could see evidence of scars under the neckline of his shirt. Reaching out, Lask unbuckled Falient’s gun belt, removing his pistol.
“I’d appreciate if you’d mind that,” Falient told him.
Lask passed the belt and holster to Wyatt, and the gunslinger drew the pistol to examine it. It was some variation of blunderbuss pistol, made of fine rosewood, steel and brass, with delicate engravings and embellishments.
“This is a Light weapon,” Wyatt said, “Where’d ya get it?”
“It was m’father’s,” Falient replied.
“Your father’s?” Lask echoed. “I wasn’t aware Demons had fathers.”
“This one does,” Falient replied, sinking to sit at the base of the wall. The chains clinked as he leaned back, settling in. “Got a mother too, or I did. They’ve both been dead for years now.”
“So you’re not a true Demon, born out of evil events on Earth.”
Falient snorted. “I’m not a true anythin’ by either side’s reckonin’. Half breed, tha’s wot I am.”
Lask took this in, exchanging a glance with Wyatt.
“How many of your kind are there?” asked Lask.
“Wouldn’t know. I was the first real success anyone had at breedin’, far as I know, but after me, a number of Demons took an interest in it. They haven’t had a great deal of success, but Daleroth himself’s bred four or five just since I was there.”
“And what work do you do for Daleroth?”
“Huntin’ and trappin’ mostly,” Falient replied. “He’s always in need of fresh stock– both Light and Dark– for breedin’ and weapons testin’.”
Lask didn’t want to know what those tests entailed. Instead, he inquired, “And is that why you’ve come to my gates: looking for fresh stock?”
“Nah,” Falient gave a dismissive flick of his hand. “I wanted the hell out of Kotherak.”
“I like t’align myself with the winners, and lately I’ve been thinkin’ that’s not Daleroth.”
Lask’s brow furrowed.
“I do what I have to in order to stay alive,” Falient said, “And I thought you’d want to know about Kotherak.”
Lask considered him a moment longer, then strode from the room, drawing Wyatt in his wake.
When Lask returned to the dungeon later that day, he took a tray of food in for his prisoner. Falient tensed in the corner, like a ravenous wolf spotting prey. Lask set the tray down for him, but Falient managed to keep from diving into it.
“I’m not going to poison you,” Lask told him. “If I want you dead, you’ll definitely know it’s coming.”
“Is that supposed t’be comforting?” Falient inquired. His chains clinked as he reached for the tray, grabbing the thick roll there.
Lask folded his legs to sit across from the hunter, watching him tear off a chunk of the bread with greedy teeth, and said, “I’d like to hear more about you.”
“Wot d’you want t’know?” A few crumbs sprayed out around the mass of bread in Falient’s mouth as he spoke.
“Who were your parents?”
“M’father was a corrupted Viatrian by the name of Tiermond,” Falient replied. He stuffed the rest of the roll in his mouth and chewed it a moment before continuing, “M’mother was Demon called Velserka.”
Lask arched a single black brow, and a couple sparks fells from his hands before he clenched his fists to contain them.
“Wot?” Falient drew back a bit, looking wary. “Don’ tell me you know ‘em.”
“Your father betrayed a man I love,” Lask told him, “And resulted in the death of many of his companions. Your mother murdered a Luminara I loved.”
“You sure do love a lot of people.” Falient’s tone was sarcastic, but the fear was plain on his face.
Lask leaned toward him, extending his hand as if to cup Falient’s chin, and conjured some lapping flames inches from the hunter’s scruff. “Tread carefully, spider,” he growled. “It’s not like me to hold the sins of the parents against their children, but don’t tempt me.”
Falient swallowed further comments on the matter.
“Tell me,” Lask inquired, settling back, but still toying with the flames curling around his fingers, “Would you have risked coming here if you’d known how your bloodline has wronged me and mine?”
The answer surprised Lask. He had expected a no. He let the fires recede back into his skin, and considered his prisoner with intrigued eyes.
“Why did you really come here?” he asked after a moment. “Something tells me a fellow like you could have fled to any corner of the world and done well enough for himself. You’ve worked for plenty of Demons; Daleroth’s nothing special among them, warrants no special fear from the likes of you. What has driven you to my gates? What do you hope to find here your own kind cannot provide you?”
Falient was silent, brooding over the chicken pieces on the tray, picking them apart with skilled fingers.
“It will serve you better to be honest with me,” Lask told him. “I can find out anything I want about you, but I’ve chosen to ask you. You are sitting in the dungeon of a Rose, on an island full of Light, surrounded by the river of Light, sprung from the Light’s city itself. You will not escape this place. You and I will either come to an understanding, or you will die here. It is in your best interest to give me a reason to understand you, and like you.”
“Luminari never like Demons.”
“I try not to speak of nevers,” Lask replied, “And you’re only half Demon. I’m developing a soft spot for Viatrians.”
Falient considered him, scavenging what was left of the chicken. “Fine,” he grumbled after a moment, “D’you want the truth?” He seemed to bristle, but not at Lask. “Daleroth’s runnin’ this breedin’ program, tryin’ to breed more powerful Darkness. You prolly know that. I’ve been capturin’ Light stock for him for a couple years now. Dark things can’t reproduce on their own. The Dark only destroys; they need a touch of the Light to create life. Never much cared for Demons with breedin’ projects, but I was in a dry spell and Daleroth pays well. He requires every Demon under him to provide stock for his projects. I put him off as long as I could, thinkin’ I’d eventually get different work under someone else, but eventually he demanded his due. I went out to their lab, gave my stock, and they conceived a daughter from me and some unfortunate Maculien.” His voice had become no more than a cold snarl. “Everything about her was Light. They killed her instantly.”
His hands shook as he picked at the grapes on the tray. Lask could not tell if he wanted to sob or scream. Falient did neither, instead steeling himself to say, “It might surprise you t’know that didn’ sit well with me. See, unlike other Demons, I know damn well what it’s like to come blinking into life on some cold table. I know what’s it like to sit there and look at the ugly faces gawkin’ at you. I know the terror of not knowin’ where you are, or what you are, or why you’re locked in this room that stinks of rot and death. No kid ought to come into the world like that. No kid ought to get the life zapped out of ‘em before they even know their own name.” He shook his head and tossed the grape stem back onto the tray. “I didn’ want any part of that. Don’ want any more part of that.” He looked down at his scuffed boots and the stone they rested on. “She looked right at me. I didn’ have a chance to stop ‘em before they pushed the button. I’m not gonna do that again.”
He drew a breath and glanced back up to Lask.
“It’s a tough life for us Dark things,” he said after a moment, “Especially me– half breed that I am. I’m only as good as m’reputation and the work I do. If I start refusin’ work, start turnin’ down jobs that involve breedin’ children, the Demons’ll start t’wonder why. As soon as anybody starts thinkin’ maybe I’ve got some Light thoughts in m’head, maybe I’m not really Dark like they are… I’m as good as dead. So, I can either try to live in a world where kids like me are bred and killed or traded away like cattle, or I can take my chances with someone I think can put a stop to that madness.”
“You want me to go after Daleroth for you.” It wasn’t a statement, and inwardly, Lask preened that he had earned such a reputation among the Dark.
“I want you to burn that place to the goddamn ground,” snarled Falient. “I want you to scorch the life out of every Demon who’s ever brought a kid into this world.”
“That’s a tall order,” Lask remarked.
“You killed Mortherik,” Falient countered. “The likes of Daleroth are scum on your boot compared to him.”
“You knew Mortherik?”
“I was born in the walls of Fastovich,” Falient hissed. “One of the first looks at life I had were those heartless black eyes of his.” He held Lask’s crimson gaze and said, “I was lost a long time ago, but there’s plenty of kids out there like me. I want you to find them and get them the hell out of the Dark’s hands before they end up like I do.”