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The Heart of Perdition

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Shemeska the Marauder's picture

“You always did have an appreciation for subtlety my beloved. I like to think that it brought a smile to your heart, if only a scream to your lips when centuries of the same led me to the ultimate lesson you taught me. The choice was mine dearest, but you cannot deny that it was a test of your own making you set me upon. And now, as always, you are my light in the darkness, piercing through even the deepest shadows to illuminate my work. One way or the other. And no, I never did answer your question did I?”

 

***

 

            The scent of ash was thick upon the air and a light breeze blew from out of the ebon void as the architect admired her work. A slender, almost anemically thin Arcanaloth with a coat of light tan and grayish fur and a shoulder length mane of brilliant scarlet hair, blending to raven black at the tips. She smiled, baring fangs and gazed out at the rising foundation stones of the tower. Her tower.

 

            She turned, her cobalt robes swirling in the air, and faced her apprentice. In truth they were much more. She was his teacher in so many more ways, and they had consummated their roles into more a partnership, on every level the word implied. It had evolved into such over the course of the past three hundred years, and against their natures, they had begun to trust in one another, for better or for worse.

 

            He looked up at her, “The construction progresses well, the ultraloth council seems more than pleased with your plans.” He scratched at the tawny colored fur on his chin, admiring the growing shape upon the 2nd Mount. “Amazing, considering the scope of it all. Migrating our people here from the Waste, forging a tie to the plane itself. Do you really think the deception will work Larsdana? Will the law and chaos tainted truly think we are abandoning our birthplace?”

 

            He grinned ruefully and flicked the tip of one chocolate brown ear, a bit of cinder blown by the wind having struck it and smoldered. Larsdana looked at the younger Arcanaloth, violet eyes flickering over him where he sat, hovering inches suspended over a lump of basalt, his scarlet and golden robes dangling below him, blowing softly in the wind. She smiled again, this time with just a bit more than pride. “You sound like you doubt me Helekanalaith. Or is it perhaps your cautious side showing through as always?” she chuckled, flicked her fingers and vanished.

 

            He raised a fiendish eyebrow and repeated her gesture, teleporting to the other side of the tower, miles distant from their previous position. He looked up at her as they both floated, hovering in open void, watching as the great tower was built, the vaults below already burrowed, carved out and warded in ways to make a power weep. But what use did they have with powers. Godless Yugoloths. They had none of their own, and would bear the yoke of none either if offered. Such was their way.

 

            “I much prefer the term meticulous to cautious. You should know that.” He smiled and began to draw within a slim book hovering in the air in from of him, his pen sketching in nearly perfect detail the rising foundations of the Tower before him. A closer look by any observer would have shown that the images themselves were constructed by an ingenious swirl of letters and miniscule writing in the Yugoloth tongue, penned in such a way as to fall into patterns to detail in both word and picture the scene before the scribe.

 

            Larsdana floated next to him, raising an eyebrow as she observed him write, “Caution always seems to be something you have, or perhaps just reserve. You’re always so hesitant to come out in the open and plainly state what you think. You paint pictures with words in that book of yours, but you do it just as plainly when you speak dearest…”

 

            She sighed and turned away from him for a moment to envision in her mind the finished structure of the tower upon the slopes of the second furnace. It would be a thing of glory and pain, contracts and deception, word become deed and the seat of her power.

 

            She looked back at her lover, her eyes flitting over the glow of the enchantments he had laid upon himself, a patchwork of subtlety and power. “Some things I do wish you would answer for me though, lest I tire of your hesitancy. In our centuries together now, you have never answered one question of mine, as odd perhaps as it is for us to ask, and answer. But I wish to hear it from your lips one way or the other. Do you?”

 

            He paused and released his pen where it held fast to the page, spilling not a drop of ink and placed it and the book to hover in place as he turned back to look at Larsdana. For a few moments he stared into the black, soulless abyss beyond her eyes, reflecting back his own before he reached out to take her hand and delicately kissed her open palm. “Is that a suitable answer?”

 

            She sighed once more but smiled, “It satisfies me for the moment, but despite our relationship as it is, there are a few words I find lacking from your lips. Treat me as you do and you will learn more and more of the secrets I still hold within my breast and yet live. Many of your lesser I would, and have, killed for the minor offenses you commit every day. And you’ve not always escaped censure my love, sooner or later I would have you plainly answer me, as counterintuitive as the concept may seem to us both.”

 

            He smiled and kissed her hand again, looking up at her as he did so. And somewhere deep inside, mental wheels turned, greased by treachery, oiled by millennia of struggle up the Yugoloth hierarchy, tempered into a blade by the female fiend who stood over him. The time would come, but not yet, and regardless of the feelings he refused to answer for.

 

***

 

            Centuries passed, mortals lived and died and the Tower of the Arcanaloths was completed, the second of the 3 great towers to rise upon the Planes of Conflict. And within, little had changed in many regards. The Tower itself was finished according to the ideals of Larsdana Ap’Nuet, adorned with a bladed architecture similar to that of the gleaming, bejeweled City of Doors. And inside the tower, within the highest chamber at the apex of the structure, warded enough to make a power of magic weep, the Keeper and her disciple sat and held counsel with their own, representatives of The Wasting Tower, and of both the chaos and law touched fiends. All the while, Larsdana’s pupil learned, and planned, and set the stage for his own ascendance.

 

            Over the course of a century, he laid into the walls of the chamber of the Keeper the words of a spell, devious in its ingenuity, the very essence of what they were, to entrap his beloved mistress. A word spoken into the ash filled wind blowing into the chamber from its balcony overlooking the explosive pyroclastic flows of the plane, a word spoken openly during counsel with the Tower’s agents among the other fiends, a word murmured at the apex of passion during an evening of debauchery with the target of his wiles herself. All of these, woven unseen into a tapestry of betrayal as Helekanalaith plotted the downfall of his lover.

 

            And one evening, having spent the day in debate with his own students, displaying the art of flaying alive a mortal petitioner to provide both parchment and ink for another of the contracts of the Blood War, he ascended the steps to her chamber, with ambition burning like a torch in his heart, and another feeling oddly smoldering beneath the former.

 

            He found her resting, scribing a spell into one of her books, wearing little in the knowledge that he would be joining her later. She turned to face him, taking no effort to cover herself and smiled, violet eyes aglow.

 

            “On time as always, your lessons to your students went well?” she said as she placed away the tome in which she had been writing, and relaxed upon a cushioned chair, beckoning him forward. With idle fingers she gestured in the air, removing his own clothing as he drew close.

 

            “They learn, if slowly. I find you a better teacher than myself, in so many things.” He kissed her and knelt. “Command me my lady, I exist as your student in everything.”

 

            She stroked his ears and looked down upon him in admiration of him and herself at owning such a creature at her beck and call, but found herself wanting in a moment of weakness as she had done before through the centuries in his presence.

 

            She took his chin in her hand and lifted it to have him gaze upon her. He lapped at her fingertips as she spoke. “Gifted in so many ways my beloved, in both the carnal and the arcane. A precious thing to me. But answer me my question you have never answered when asked. No pause, no evasion, no silent answer. Words have power and I would hear you answer with them… Do you love me Helekanalaith?”

 

            He smiled and paused with trepidation in his heart, releasing her index finger from his mouth where he suckled at it. And meeting her gaze, he answered her with a single word he had kept held back for a hundred years. And as the word fell from his tongue, the years fell full circle and his lessons reached an end. Her eyes had barely a flicker of recognition before the spells and wardings laced into her chamber collapsed and imploded in upon her, leaving but a single brilliant sapphire gem cupped gently and with adoration by her Helekanalaith.

 

And once again, her question was given no answer by him.

 

***

 

And somewhere in the darkness of the highest chamber of the tower, Her Tower, His Tower, the keeper closed his book and dried the ink fresh upon the page, bled from the flesh of a petitioner. He uttered a complex curse of words and slid his journal into the extradimensional pocket he had summoned, and sealed it again with a flick of his wrist, and sat. Amber eyes glowing in the darkness he held before himself the glittering orb that had not left his chamber, nor been beheld by any other save himself since the day he had taken his position. The orb shown with a pale blue radiance, an odd little trinket considering the styles and preferences of the fiends of the tower, and the light played over his face and reflected in those two soulless voids of his eyes.

 

He smiled inwardly and into the surface of the gem, watching his own reflection look back at him with pale violet eyes in that pallid sapphire orb. “Another evenings work completed, orders written and contracts bound by word, by blood, and by spell. And again, like every night I give my thanks for your lessons, and for your failings. You suffer for them eternally my dearest, knowing what I am, and what you shall never again be. Teach, but never all you know, and therein lay your gravest error Larsdana. Know this, never being able to affect or rectify, nor make amends, nor take revenge. So perfect was my betrayal, you cannot fault me. You take pride in your lover and your student, and that is why you cannot hate me even as I wrack your soul with torment and undying pain within your prison. Think of this my Larsdana.”

 

He smiled with manic pleasure as he reached out to touch the orb, hearing the whisper of a scream, terrified and torn with anguish as with the briefest of contact, it brushed the edges of his mind. He smiled, a look of ecstasy on his lips as he closed his eyes for a moment, savoring the touch of her. “Take solace in my ministrations my love, they are nothing less than was earned by your failure to see me before I killed you, in not realizing my betrayal of you before the spell was from my lips and burning through your black heart. I do nothing less than what you taught me. And for that you should be proud.” He turned from the orb, then paused and drew closer to its mirrored surface.

 

“And to answer your question, one that I have not answered for you ever. Not when you held me in your arms upon the slopes of Krangath, or when we lay with each other in the forgotten depths of The Wasting Tower, nor the night that I slew you. I answer it now. Yes, now and then, I do.” And saying so, he leaned forwards to kiss the gem, shuddering with the mental howl of anguish that was her only reply.

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