Authors: Keith Baker
“Whatever mystery is hidden in your mind, il-Lashtavar cannot be allowed to claim it, and I will do whatever is necessary to prevent it.”
“That’s reassuring,” Lei said. “It seems to me that if it wasn’t for Daine, your innards would be decorating the docks of Sharn.”
Daine glared at her, but Lakashtai seemed unruffled.
“Tashana is a powerful warrior, and her presence is a sign of the importance of the secret within Daine’s dreams. We are stronger together than apart, and all that strength will be required if we are to survive the days ahead.”
Daine yawned. “Well, now you’ve got me scared to close my eyes, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep them open. So you said you can do something that will allow me to sleep safely?”
“For now, yes, and you as well, Lei; they may not have found your dreams yet, but they may try to find Daine through you; we must be cautious.”
Lei shrugged. “Are you going to tuck me in, too? Or make a cold fire candle for me? I’ve always been afraid of the dark.”
“Then there may be hope for you yet,” Lakashtai said, as she lowered the shutter on the lamp, filling the room with shadows.
ierce emerged on the deck of the
. The ship was entering the waters of the Thunder Sea, and the coast of Breland was falling behind and disappearing into the night. Pierce had never seen an ocean before, and he was fascinated by the scope of it—water stretching across the horizon, as far as the eye could see. To the southwest, occasional flashes of light suggested the presence of one of the storms the region was known for, but for now the waters were calm. Pierce gazed down along the side of the ship, watching the prow cut through the water. He could sense the spray and the moisture against his skin, and as he often did, he tried to analyze these feelings, to justify them. He had no nerves, and his “skin” was steel and mithral, so how was it that he could
the drops of moisture rolling down his arm?
Most warforged had been created with the capacity to read so that they could convey messages and read maps and instructions. In the past, the warforged had no time for leisure pursuits, but recently Pierce had taken to reading while the others were asleep. He was particularly intrigued by the subject of spirit binding, and the creation of the warforged, though he could find little reliable information on either subject. Much about the warforged was a mystery—either secret knowledge hidden away in the vaults of House Cannith or simply unknown. From what Pierce had learned so far, the process leading to the creation of the warforged was as much
luck and chance as it was skill. House Cannith had produced magical constructs for many centuries. These golems were powerful creatures; they had the strength of stone or steel and felt neither pain nor emotion, but they lacked true awareness; they could follow simple instructions but could not adapt to unexpected situations, display initiative, or learn from their experiences. When Galifar collapsed into civil war, Cannith artificers sought to improve their golems, to produce sentient constructs with enough intelligence to employ strategy on the battlefield—tireless soldiers that could be sent into enemy territory with only general instructions, who could devise their own plans based on the tactical situation. The early stages of the project met with limited success. The warforged titans were living siege engines, and possessed a basic intelligence and self-awareness—but this was little better than that of a human child. A generation later, an artificer named Aaren d’Cannith led the team that made the critical breakthough, creating a truly sentient soldier with the skills of an elite warrior. Somehow Aaren’s soldiers had gained more than just human intelligence. They could feel pain. They could smell, and even taste, despite the fact that they could not eat, and they possessed the capacity for emotion. An ideal soldier should be able to ignore pain and act without being influenced by emotion, but somehow, these things were magically bound to the warforged sentience: with the ability to think came the power to feel.
While the artificers could not remove emotion entirely, House Cannith at least worked to suppress it. Every aspect of the warforged consciousness that could be shaped was directed toward its chosen path, and the warforged were given minimal information about anything besides their purpose. A warforged soldier didn’t need to know the reason for the battle: all that mattered was that he was built to fight it, and for as long as there was war, that was enough.
Now the war was over. The treaty that had secured the peace had also freed the warforged, recognizing their rights as sentient beings, not just weapons of war.
What did freedom mean for the warforged?
Pierce turned away from the horizon to study the ship. Beyond the sail that billowed even on this windless night,
there was little to distinguish the
from a mundane vessel. A tall, muscular human was minding the ropes, and as he looked at Pierce there was an unmistakable charge of hostility. Pierce instantly evaluated the threat presented by the sailor. Size and build were taken into consideration, along with the cudgel hanging from the man’s belt and the leather jerkin he was wearing. Scars surrounded his filmy left eye, and Pierce had already considered ways to take advantage of this handicap in close combat. It took only a second for Pierce to decide that the man presented little threat to him—and that despite his apparent hostility, he lacked the resolve to act on his aggression.
If Pierce had lungs, he might have sighed. Cyre had fallen, but war was still the essence of his existence; forged to serve as scout and skirmisher, it was an effort for him to walk in the daylight without clinging to the shadows. Slowly, he was exploring other paths of thought, other aspects of life, but it was only in battle that he felt truly alive. Even now, despite his evaluation, part of him hoped this Brelish sailor would attack him so that for a few minutes, he could feel the satisfaction that came from serving his true purpose.
This was the paradox of freedom. Compared to humans, there was little that warforged needed. The warforged could feel physical sensations, but they did not feel physical pleasure in the same way as organic creatures. They did not eat or sleep and were immune to all but the harshest weather conditions, making shelter an option as opposed to a necessity. Few felt any need to amass possessions beyond their weapons or the tools they required to fulfill their function. For a human, freedom meant the opportunity to do whatever he wanted, but for the typical warforged, what he wanted was to perform the function he was made for.
A memory surfaced in Pierce’s mind—a slender, cloaked warforged, its skin plated in dark blue enamel, its voice that of a human female. He had only met her for a few moments, but he’d never forgotten the encounter. She’d sought to recruit him, hinting that somewhere a group of warforged was building a new future for his kind. He’d turned her down, choosing to remain with his three friends, but ever since that night,
he’d wondered what would have happened if he’d gone with her. Recently, he had been reading a history of Galifar and was amazed by what one human had accomplished. The warforged had no history to look back to, but what future lay ahead? Was there a warforged Galifar, waiting to be built?
There was no wind, but the main sail billowed and fluttered, and Pierce turned to study it. The kraken-and-lightning emblem of House Lyrandar gleamed in the darkness. It had been charged with cold fire, and set amid the black sail as it was, it would seem to be floating in mid-air to any approaching vessels. The wind was the result of an elemental bound into the fabric—a spirit of the air that could generate a pinpoint gale just behind the sail. Studying the rippling sail, Pierce wondered about the life of the bound spirit. Was it conscious, aware of its surroundings? Most of the books Pierce had found claimed that elementals were simple creatures and that binding them was no different than domesticating horses. Pierce couldn’t help but wonder: Was the sail a prison for the spirit, or was it doing what it loved most—was the wind its one joy in life? Looking at the sail and imagining the spirit trapped within, Pierce didn’t know whether to feel pity … or envy.
ie!” Lei cried. She spun forward, and her staff was an arc of darkwood flying toward Daine’s head. It was a blow that could shatter a skull—but only if it connected. As Lei moved forward, Daine ducked. In that instant, Lei knew her mistake, but it was too late. Her momentum carried her forward, and before she recovered her balance the tip of Daine’s sword was at her belly. She gasped and dropped to one knee as the staff slipped from her grasp. For a moment she managed to hold herself upright.
“Why?” she whispered and then fell to the ground.
“That’s what I’d like to know.” Daine poked her in the stomach. He’d wound a strip of thick leather around the tip of his blade, but it was still enough to make her wince. “If I kill you one more time, I think Dolurrh will run out of space.”
Someone else might have dismissed it as a joke, but Lei had known Daine long enough to recognize the edge in his voice. “What do you care? I thought we were just playing.”
They were on the deck of the
. It was midday, but the sun was hidden behind a blanket of dark clouds. Beyond one memorable storm, the voyage had been unremarkable, and the novelty of being out on the open sea had worn off after a few days of choppy water and nausea. When the day brought a pause in the rain and a period of relative calm, Daine had suggested that they go to the deck to practice, but it seemed that they had different ideas as to what this meant.
“You need to thrust more and stop with the wild swings. Use your reach. This isn’t a time for games.” Daine held out his hand, but Lei remained sitting.
“Why not? I don’t see any pirates on the horizon. What’s wrong with you?”
Daine withdrew his hand and sat down on the deck, facing her. He ran his finger down the scar on his left cheek. “Perhaps I am taking this too seriously. It’s just … we’re going to Xen’drik.”
“Really? That explains the boat.” Daine glared at her, and she held up her hands. “Sorry.”
“You’re just proving my point. There’s nothing funny about this. We don’t know what to expect in the weeks ahead, but we need to be ready for anything.”
“I’m not ready?” Lei said, a little heat rising in her voice.
“I guess … you were with me during the war. I know you can handle yourself in a fight if you have to, but you’re not like Pierce and me. Pierce was built for war. I was raised in a house of mercenaries and learned the first forms as soon as I could lift a sword.”
“Good for you,” Lei said, “and who was it who fought a minotaur with her bare hands?”
“That’s my point, Lei. You can fight if you want to, if you have time to prepare, but it’s when—”
There was a flash of steel, and the point of his dagger was at her throat. She didn’t even see him draw it.
“Life doesn’t always give you warnings. I just want to make sure you’re ready for anything.”
Lei knocked the blade aside. “So what’s your suggestion,
Don’t trust anyone? Stay on edge every moment of your life?”
“You don’t know the first thing about my childhood, Daine. You were raised by soldiers? My parents worked in an isolated warforged enclave, and by the time I was eight I’d only met a dozen humans. My first friends were steel and stone, and the games we played were games of war. Perhaps I am too trusting. Perhaps my life has been too sheltered. Deception doesn’t come naturally to the warforged—it has to be learned, so I’m not used to worrying about my friends pulling daggers on me. I assure
you that when I’m facing an enemy I know how to deal with him.” She narrowed her eyes, and Daine yelped and dropped his dagger. The metal glowed red with the heat of her anger, then slowly faded back to black. Lei stood and strode over to the rail, glaring out across the water.
Daine watched her, rubbing his hand. He could handle a sword with ease, but words—words were another matter. He’d known Lei for almost three years, but he’d never thought to ask her about her childhood. His history with his own family, the mercenaries of House Deneith, was a bitter one. After years of serving in the Blademark, he’d become disgusted with the moral ambivalence of the dragonmark houses, which typically put the pursuit of gold above all else. Daine often wondered what would have happened if the dragonmark houses had used their influence at the start of the Last War, if they’d taken sides—could they have ended it quickly, without the terrible loss of life of the past century? Had the thought even crossed the minds of any of the barons, or had they only seen the profit, as House Cannith built weapons for all nations, House Deneith fueled the fire with its mercenary armies, and every other house found its own way to profit from the conflict?