My writing contest submission…

A while back I posted about a writing contest I entered through Wizards of the Coast (read that here, if you haven’t already). I ended that post playing around with the idea of putting the sample here.   So, a year later, here it is…

 

Daenos Karanok led the bound and gagged elf toward the execution dais centered in the large, stone-walled chamber.   The white robes Daenos wore marked the solemnity of the event about to transpire, and the congregation gathered in the great hall beneath the Karanok mansion maintained an almost unnatural silence as the procession made its way through the chamber.  He stopped at the steps leading up to the pyre, the doomed elf behind him.  Daenos noted that Jaerios Karanok, ruler of Luthcheq and Daenos’ great uncle, smiled slightly at their approach, but Daenos knew the grin was one of anticipation rather than familial pride.  Jaerios never missed an execution.

From the base of the steps, Daenos glanced up at his distant cousin Kaestra, a dark-haired woman, pale and unattractive, who stood and surveyed the assembly and the prisoner below.  Her green eyes shone with what the Karanok family deemed the fervor of her faith, though others outside the family secretly believed it to be proof of her utter madness.  For a brief moment, the only sound within the chamber came from the sputtering torches which illuminated the chamber’s sole embellishment: a broad white tapestry decorated with a lone black circle, representing the sable orb located in the chamber above to which this ceremony was dedicated.  Kaestra’s voice broke the silence.

“The Great Nothing, look down upon your faithful and accept this sacrifice as a sign of our adoration and fealty.”

“Entropy hear us,” came the rejoinder.

“For in His wisdom, The Great Nothing has revealed to us the path by which we will achieve all.”

“Entropy hear us.”

“And in His name, we destroy those who disgrace Faerûn with the deceit of the arcane and those who would protect them.”

“Entropy hear us.”

“Bring forth the wizard.”

Daenos pushed his prisoner up the steps and toward the pyre.  He could see the elf’s arms straining against the bindings that kept them behind his back, despite the pain it must have caused – it was now common practice to break the fingers of wizards before their execution.  This practice had been suggested by Naeros, Jaerios’ son, whose treatment of wizards was legendary, even as far away as the city ofSaerloonfrom which Daenos had come.  “Take away their hands, and we limit what the filthy animals can do,” Naeros had explained. “I have often argued that we should cut out their tongues as well, but my father rather enjoys listening to their screams when they burn.”  Daenos had grinned at this and nodded.

Daenos fought off another smile now.  He had been sent by his father, Povros, to the port of Luthcheq to be trained to more thoroughly attune himself to Entropy, and thus to the five daughters the god had spawned, one of which could be found beneath his father’s mansion.  The decision to train Daenos had been made out of necessity.  Samil, the family’s former entropist, as the specialized priests had taken to call themselves, had been executed by Povros for drunkenly boasting of his position to a whore in a Saerloon tavern.  Fortunately, the now long-dead cleric had not revealed his employer, as the Karanok family name would most assuredly invite the wrath of the large enclave of Red Wizards located in Saerloon.  To this day, or so Daenos heard, children were still finding pieces of him throughout the city.  Because Samil had not been family, but a member of a lesser house of the city ofLuthcheq, Povros decreed all further entropists in his house were strictly to be Karanoks.

Daenos had been the obvious heir to the position.  His early clerical training identified him as one particularly favored by Entropy; his prayers and meditation awoke such insight within him as to the desires of their god that Povros’s most trusted advisors often consulted Daenos before meeting with his father.  All inhabiting the house considered Daenos’s gifts a blessing from the Great Nothing for Povros’s piety, which went so far as to preclude Povros from using any item he believed to be created by wizards.  Daenos’s predecessor, after observing him telepathically control the daughter of Entropy with no formal training, suggested to Povros that Daenos be sent to Luthcheq to be more thoroughly educated by Jaerios and Kaestra.  Initially loath to send away his first-born son and heir, Povros interpreted Samil’s death as a sign from his deity to reconsider.

Thus, for the past year, Daenos resided in Luthcheq, observing those who had already harnessed the god’s power, learning what wondrous abilities their god could grant.  His exceptional abilities quickly drew the attention of Kaestra, the most powerful cleric in the Karanok family, who took it upon herself to challenge Daenos in his training, at times cruelly.  This ceremony marked the culmination of those months of intense study, and signaled Daenos’ entrance into what he knew to be a level of prestige more suitable to one of his talents.  Soon, he knew, he would return to Saerloon, and continue the family’s efforts to rid Faerûn of wizardry, perhaps now a little less subtly.  The Great Nothing, Daenos thought, had illuminated within him a myriad of possibilities.

He was thinking of these possibilities now, as the elf’s hands were freed from their bonds and quickly moved toward the chains hanging above the kindling.  The elf had been captured two weeks earlier a short distance outside the city gates.  The apprehension had not been easy.  Not only was this elf a particularly powerful mage, one of the strongest Daenos had encountered, but he had been accompanied by three others, a trio of talented warriors.  Sheer numbers, as well as a bit of luck, Daenos admitted to himself, finally overwhelmed the group, who were subdued and arrested as hired mercenaries from the city ofCimbar.  Cimbar was a known ally of the city ofAkanax, which Daenos was aware had been at war with Luthcheq for close to eight years. The others’ heads had been sent back to Cimbar in baskets, with a letter of warning for those who would attempt to undermine the Karanoks and the city ofLuthcheq.  Captured wizards were always burned alive.

The sudden movement of the elf surprised Daenos and the clerics who were attempting to chain the mage’s hands.  As the assembly watched, the elf ripped himself away from the two clerics and, pulling off his gag with one broken hand, lunged toward Kaestra, possibly viewing her as a weaker target because of her sex and priestly garments.  Daenos made no immediate attempt to come to her aid, knowing the elf would pay dearly for this misjudgment.

Kay er scotus.” A black haze immediately surrounded Kaestra’s right hand as she brought it forward as if to motion the elf to stop.  The elf’s momentum, however, carried him into her so that his chest landed squarely on her outstretched hand.  He screamed and fell to his knees, clutching his chest with one hand.  Kaestra stood over the kneeling elf, as he looked up into the eyes of his tormentor.

The elf grinned.

Kaestra leveled her right hand across the elf’s chin, knocking him onto his side.  He attempted to push himself up, but after the blow his strength failed him, and he lay on his side as a small puddle of blood formed beneath his jaw.  Kaestra motioned for the assisting clerics to continue the ceremony.  As they pulled the semi-conscious elf to his feet and resumed the process of chaining him to the pyre, a hushed murmur moved through the assembly at the unexpected display of their god’s strength.   Kaestra, her hand still enveloped in the shimmering mist, addressed Daenos.

“Your last step is complete, initiate,” Kaestra declared. “With the death of the mage, you will be designated as a god-touched, and serve as a link between our priests and the Great Nothing.  Serve him, and us, well.”

Daenos moved toward the pyre as his deity’s power began to manifest itself within.  Ten feet away from the pile of brush and wood, he stopped and stared at the doomed elf, whose head was now bent toward his chest in apparent resignation.  Daenos smiled, his focus now moving to the base of the pyre.  While it was a minor spell, Daenos always delighted in the familiar warmth that came with the power at his control.  This warmth transferred itself to the pyre, and the brush soon began to smolder, then burn.

As Daenos’s spell ignited the pyre, the worshippers discarded their solemnity and broke into raucous shouting and laughter, mocking the wizard as the flames grew more intense.  The elf’s robes smoldered and blackened, and a sickening scent of burning flesh began to waft through the hall, overwhelming the smell of the witchweed that had been placed among the wood.  The witchweed, always placed in the pyre as a precaution against mages with extraordinary willpower, burned with a light smoke that could break even the strongest mage’s concentration.

Because of this, the elf’s chant came as a surprise to those who expected only cries for mercy.  It began slowly, spoken through clenched teeth and streams of tears; but as the flames began to destroy the nerve functions, it became almost song-like in its intensity and pitch.

Daenos, hearing the elvish language, strode toward the elf, pulling from beneath his robes an ebony mace, a gift from his father.  The head was a solid black sphere, in honor of their god, though it had been created by a high-ranking cleric of another deity in Saerloon.  It could, once a day, simultaneously summon a cloud of darkness and grant its wielder the ability to see through the blackness.  The weapon’s victims learned quickly why its creator had named the mace Dark Herald, for its plain appearance masked a weapon that struck with unexpected force.  Quickly calling on Entropy for a minor protection spell from the flames, he swung the weapon at the elf’s head, breaking the skull with a sickening crunch that echoed throughout the hall.  The elf’s body went limp, and the worshippers who had not immediately run for the nearest door cheered their approval.

“What was the elf saying?” came a voice from the back.
“Was it a spell?  Is it possible?  Did not the witchweed disrupt him?”
“It was a prayer.” All attention turned to the new entropist, who stared at the now partially blackened figure. “He was praying,” Daenos said.

“To whom?” asked a small man, whom Daenos recognized as a member of another noble house.

“A goddess — Loviatar.”

“What did he say?”

“Something inconsequential,” responded Kaestra.  “She holds no sway here in the presence of the Great Nothing.  Let the mage’s body burn until the morning; such is the power of his bitch goddess.”

The worshippers lingered in the hall until Jaerios left, knowing the awaiting feast celebrating the death of another mage would only begin after he reported the news of the successful execution to Maelos, his father.  Too old and senile now to attend the burnings, he remained in the northern wing of the Karanok mansion, locked away in his bedroom, and rarely spoken of by the rest of the family.  Jaerios made these reports out of duty and tradition, though Daenos had quickly learned that Jaerios’s sense of duty did not prohibit him from openly desiring the natural end to Maelos’s life.

Daenos remained behind as the others retired from the worship hall, considering what he had witnessed.  Before the elf succumbed to the flames, Daenos had noted the trance-like expression on the mage’s face, and, even more puzzling, the prayer’s words:

The Maiden of Pain grants me peace.  Peace through pain, pain without fear. I have received this promise from her: life follows the death of the devout.  A vision attends my death:  the deception will end.  I see pain without end.   I see death reflected here a thousand times, but with no life to follow.

* * *

            The woman awoke, a burning elf the final image of the dream that had accompanied her night’s sleep.  It had been a chaotic jumble of such images, and she struggled to remind herself of all that she had seen.  Two cityscapes entered her mind: one whose gothic architecture she immediately recognized as Saerloon, and another whose only distinctive trait had been accompanying images of a swamp.  A number of colorful, lizard-like creatures were also seen, as were six black circles, one larger than the other five.  Connecting each of these images, she remembered, and emphasizing this as more than a mere dream, was something with which Fyrra Klen was intimately familiar: a nine-tailed whip, symbol of Loviatar.

Fyrra rose from the bed, and walked nude to the small window of the room she had purchased for the night.  She did not fear being seen, as outside the streets of Pyarados were still dark with night.  And even if seen, Fyrra thought, the painful lust she knew her body could awaken in most men’s hearts (and some women’s, for that matter) only served her goddess more.  The Thayan city was quiet, almost peaceful, though Fyrra knew the rising sun would soon awaken it to another day of inevitable pain and suffering.  “Such is the reason,” Fyrra reflected, “that we pray to Loviatar in the morning: to give thanks for the opportunity to take a part in it.”

She knelt down in front of the window, awaiting the morning.  As the sun began to appear over the mountains to the east, Fyrra took up the small ceremonial lash that lay beside her and began to strike herself across her back.  Red lines, then welts, and then bleeding slashes appeared on her shoulders, joining the small, thin scars already present from previous rituals.  She stopped when the sun cleared the mountain range, and commenced to pray for her regular complement of spells, as well as further guidance in the interpretation of the night’s dream.  She smiled, feeling the chill of her deity’s caress as the incantations returned to her.  She opened her eyes and looked upon the streets, now illuminated with the dawn.  Loviatar had spoken to her.

“We must go to Saerloon,” she said to herself. “But first we must prepare.”

Fyrra Klen, priestess of Loviatar, the Maiden of Pain, smiled at the new day’s possibilities.

 

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