Authors: Keith Baker
Daine stood up, brushing crushed bugs from his byrnie. “Great. That and a crown will buy me a cup of tal.”
Lei looked at him. “I seem to recall that helping the people of High Walls was your idea.”
“Doesn’t mean it was a good one.”
Pierce plucked his flail from the ashes. Perhaps he was ignoring the conversation; perhaps he simply had nothing to add. Either way, he kept his silence as they began the long walk back to the surface.
There was little conversation as the group made their way through the sewers. Daine knew that Lei wanted to hear about the blackout, but he didn’t feel like talking. Every vision took a toll on his body and spirit. His head was still pounding, and he was exhausted. The memories were far worse than the physical pain: The smell of the battlefield, the sight of friends’ corpses scattered across the battlefield, the fear that he might make the wrong decision and lead the rest of his soldiers to their deaths. These visions seized his mind with a terrible strength, blotting out all other thoughts. When he awoke, all recent memories—everything since the war—were pushed away by the horrors of Keldan Ridge. If it continued to get worse, would he lose his memory for good, or might he be trapped in his memories of the past, forced to relive the battle over and over again?
At the same time, he couldn’t deny his curiosity. None of them could remember that night. Until four days ago, Daine had completely forgotten the discovery of the warforged base. As frightening as the visions were, there was a part of him that yearned to know more—to finally unlock the secrets of that night, the last night before the Mourning destroyed his homeland.
Eventually the trio emerged onto the streets of High Walls. Once this district had served as a prison camp, housing
foreigners and others Breland considered a threat to the security of Sharn. Now that the Treaty of Thronehold had brought an end to the Last War, relations between the people of the Five Nations were a little less strained, but while a Sharn guard might treat a Cyran refugee or Karrn merchant with less suspicion than he would have a year ago, the psychological wounds of a century of war wouldn’t vanish overnight, and prejudice still ran deep. High Walls was no longer a prison, but it remained a ghetto. The majority of the inhabitants were refugees from Cyre, people who had lost almost everything in the Mourning. Some were struggling to make a new life in the City of Towers, and these tradesfolk and laborers provided the services that kept the district on its feet. Many refugees were simply looking for a place to waste away, pining for their fallen nation. The other inhabitants were a motley assortment, bound together by misery: beggars, cripples, orphans, and others unwanted in the more prosperous regions of the city. The walls were cracked, cobblestones were missing from the streets, and it rained as often as not. It was depressing, and it could be dangerous, but it was home.
Daine and his companions lived in an old inn. When they’d taken possession, the building had been a shambles; it had served as a home for generations of squatters, and Daine had seen battlefields with less damage. Lei had surprised them all. It was a trivial matter for her cleansing magics to dispel the layers of dirt and excrement covering the walls and floors. Lei was also a fair carpenter, a skill left over from her early training in the schools of the House of Making. Over the last few months she had produced new furniture and acquired a few squares of painted cloth to decorate the common room. Lei had set up a workshop in the wine cellar, and Pierce and Daine even had enough space for combat drills, if they pushed aside the tables. It wasn’t a palace by any means, but there was more than enough space for the three of them, and on a rainy night it was comforting to sit by the large hearth.
Tonight Daine went straight up to his room. He shut the heavy door and laid the wooden bar across it then quickly stripped off his armor. While he’d crushed the life from the insects, the remnants of centipedes and beetles were scattered
throughout his clothing and mashed against his skin, and a hot bath and fresh clothes were definitely called for. As he stripped off his belt and breeches, he paused, looking at his belt pouch. A memory returned—Jode’s voice, calling out and waking him from his stupor. Daine reached into the pouch and pulled out a small bundle of black leather. Carefully, he untied the cord and unwrapped the package, revealing a tiny crystal bottle filled with a luminous blue liquid. He slowly ran a finger across the lead seal, tracing the complex dragonmark embedded on the top.
“Jode?” he whispered.
“There are many things you should be concerned about, but ghosts are not one of them.” It was a woman’s voice, low and warm—certainly not Lei.
Daine’s sword was hanging on the handle of the door, and the door was still barred.
aine rolled across the bed, snatching his breeches as he hit the worn mattress. He came up with his back to the wall and quickly covered himself.
The woman was standing in the far corner of the room, half-hidden in the dim light of the evening. She was wrapped in a dark cloak that clung to her slender frame like a shadow, and a deep hood concealed her face. Daine couldn’t see any weapons, but in a world of wizards and sorcerers an unarmed man could be the deadliest enemy of all, and Daine crouched, preparing to leap for his sword.
Before he could move, the woman spoke again. Her words were soft but clear; though she was across the room, it seemed as though she was whispering into his ear.
“I have no intention of harming you, Daine. You wouldn’t be here today if you hadn’t sought my help.” Slowly, she freed her hands from her cloak and pulled back her hood. A flood of inky black surrounded perfect features that could have been sculpted from marble, but it was the eyes that he remembered: slightly too large, with just a hint of an elven slant. Her irises were emerald pools that a man could get lost in, and they seemed to draw all the light in the room. “I do hope you remember.”
If she was disturbed by Daine’s state of undress, she didn’t show it. Perhaps that was what pushed him over the edge. Tearing his eyes away from her, Daine walked over to the door and
pulled his sword from its sheath, continuing to shield himself with his breeches.
“Lakashtai. I owe you. I’m not one to forget a debt, but let’s get something straight. If you want to talk to me, you can knock on the front door like everyone else. You can wait in the common room, but I’ve had it with surprises. If you’ve got something to say, I want it now. No riddles or mysteries.”
The hint of a smile played about her lips. “My apologies, Daine. I know that it was rude to invade your privacy in this way, but I assumed that this situation called for discretion.”
“I’m still not hearing an explanation.”
For all his frustration, Daine found it hard to hold onto his anger. Lakashtai’s voice was rough music, with a slight accent that was impossible to place; though he’d only seen her once before, Daine felt as if he’d heard that voice as a child. He felt like a fool for raising a weapon against an unarmed woman—worse yet, one who had saved his life.
“You’ve been having visions, haven’t you?”
Daine paused in the midst of returning his sword to its sheath. “What do you know about that?”
“They pose a threat, and I intend to deal with it.”
“I don’t remember asking for help this time.”
“Did I say you had a choice?” Lakashtai’s eyes seemed to glow in the darkness.
“It’s my mind.”
He wasn’t sure why he was arguing. The visions had nearly gotten him killed, and they seemed to be getting worse. He found he had a morbid desire to know more about that night—and a strange reluctance to let the kalashtar woman touch his thoughts.
“For now. That could change.”
“I haven’t seen a crazy changeling in my dreams lately.”
Daine turned away for a moment, just long enough to pull on his breeches, but even as he tightened the drawstring he felt a hand on his shoulder, warm breath against his neck. All his training demanded that he react, spin around, push her away, but he found that he simply couldn’t move. Her scent was intoxicating, filled with strange spices and hints of unknown lands. Now she was whispering directly into his
ear—or were her words entirely in his mind?
“I am sorry, Daine, but it’s time to sleep.”
And he did.
Daine looked down from the barricade, staring into the Keldan valley. The light of the burning skyship cast long shadows across the bodies of humans and warforged. From the safety of the ridge they looked like broken toys, scattered across the floor by an angry child. There was no sign of enemy activity—no reason to wait. It was time to launch the attack.
Only—something was wrong. It was too quiet. Where were the sounds of his soldiers sharpening blades, praying to the Sovereigns, and going through the dozens of other preparations for battle? He looked back toward the camp, and the answer became clear.
He was alone.
When he’d last seen it, there had been three dozen soldiers clustered around the salvaged tents. Now the campsite was empty, and the only movement was the rustling of torn cloth in time with the faint night wind. Daine slowly drew his sword, only to discover another unpleasant surprise. Instead of Deneith steel, the blade was now formed from glass; one solid blow and it would shatter into a dozen fragments.
As he stared at the fragile blade, memories slowly began to slip into place. The Mourning. Sharn. His uninvited guest.
“Lakashtai!” Daine looked up at the night sky. “What is this? What do you want with me?”
This is not my doing
The voice was right behind him. Daine whirled toward the sound, blade raised. The glass sword might shatter against steel, but it could still pierce soft flesh.
No one was there.
I did not bring you here, Daine. Your thoughts are under siege, and this is the moment your enemies seek
The answer lies here, hidden in your dreams. Search the battlefield, and you will find your foe
Daine scowled. “You break into my home, drag me into my
dreams, and now you’re telling me what to do. What happens if I don’t go along with your plan? What if I just stay here?”
Feel free. Stay here as long as you like, because you aren’t going to wake up until I let you
“I see. Fine. I’ll play your little game, but I should warn you—after all this is done, you’d best be gone when I wake up.”
There is more to this than you know, Daine. Far more than your mind is at risk. I cannot be bound by your pride
Daine moved through the empty camp, prodding at blankets and bundles of arrows with his glass sword. He studied the pallet where Jode had set up the infirmary, and he could still see spots of his own blood staining the moldy cloth. For a moment, he thought he saw the halfling out of the corner of his eye—but the phantom vanished when he turned, if it had ever existed.
“There’s nothing here,” he said to himself as much as to Lakashtai.
This is your refuge. It is not the site of the battle