Authors: Keith Baker
The four scouts were spread across the clearing. They were identical, and as Pierce moved into view they turned to face him in perfect unison, blades rising up and locking along their arms.
It was the man in the center of the clearing who drew the eye. He towered over the scouts; he must have been nine and a half feet in height with a solid, powerful build. His intimidating bulk was enhanced by his cloak, which flowed around him—though it was a still night, with no breeze to justify this motion. Pierce’s instinct said the man was warforged, and certainly there was no sign of flesh on the stranger’s body, but neither could Pierce see any wood, metal plates, or the root-like tendrils that served as the muscles of a warforged. At this distance, he seemed to be covered in chainmail—but Pierce could see nothing beneath the glittering links except darkness.
. The stranger’s voice seemed to radiate out in all directions, a dry whisper raised to the sound of a mighty wind. His face was hidden from view. At first Pierce thought the stranger was wearing a hood, but instead there seemed to be a cloud of smoke or mist centered over his head, or perhaps a dense cloud of fluttering insects.
I let you slip through my fingers once before, little brother. That will not happen again
Once before? Pierce had never seen this creature, though there was something strangely … familiar about his voice. “Who are you?”
The stranger’s entire body seemed to
, and his armor clinked and chimed.
I am death to that which bleeds. I am the wind that scours flesh from bone. I am Harmattan, and I am your brother
“Harmattan? I see no family resemblance,” Pierce said, “and the wind is not part of my family tree.”
Are you so certain? Do you know what forces went into your making? Do you know why you were brought into this world?
“To protect the nation of Cyre.”
No. That is what you were told, by fleshlings who knew nothing of your true purpose or potential. That is their use for you—it is not your destiny
He glanced back, but the plaza was completely empty. There was little cover, and it was too large for Daine to have left it without Pierce hearing the sound of boots on stone. “Where are my friends?”
Your … companions …
His voice was dry, but he indicated his disdain with a slow drawling of the word.
…left you, it seems. Teleportation, I suspect. Apparently they didn’t care enough to bring you along. What else would you expect, from a former soldier? In his mind, you were built to die for him
The dull heat of anger was as unfamiliar as curiosity. “So far I have heard nothing but arrogant mockery. If you know anything about me, speak quickly.”
What I know is far less important than what you may learn in my company
“I do not understand.”
How could you? You have spent your life among creatures of flesh. In their eyes, you are nothing but a tool, a sword to be used in battle until you are broken or cast aside
“Perhaps it is you who doesn’t understand them.”
And you do?
Harmattan’s cloak rippled like smoke, setting off another series of chimes. Pierce realized that the cloak itself was made from metal fragments—making it all the more impossible for it to flow so freely.
Your essence is magic, not flesh and bone. Your life is the product of artifice, not blood and lust. You are warforged—but do you even know what this means? You will never find out among humans
As strange and foreboding as this Harmattan was, he had an undeniable charisma. His windy voice was almost hypnotic, like listening to the surf at night. And his conviction rang through each sentence; there was no question that he believed these words. Curiosity rose again. Pierce knew that Daine and Lei relied on him, but he rarely seemed to be a part of their conversations. He could feel emotions passing between them, but often the triggers made little sense to him, and there were
so many little things—the endless quest for food, for shelter. The hours he spent alone as they slept. What would it be like to be among others who had no needs of these things?
Then he looked at the scouts, with their metal teeth and spiked arms. There might be something to Harmattan’s words—but were these the creatures he wished to learn from?
“I will consider your words,” he said at last, “but for now, I think I will remain with my friends, so unless you intend to help me find them, you may as well be on your way.”
We have given much to find you, little brother. You are more important than you know. I told you, you will not slip away again
“Oh, I think he might.” Lei stepped out from behind the pillar. Light burst from her staff, illuminating the clearing and the long wand in Lei’s hand. Pierce flexed his fingers around the arrow he held at the ready.
, he said, and there was a note of amused recognition in his voice.
Of course, I should have known you would stay close to your …protector. What sort of friend have you been? I see your scars on his soul. I assure you, you will find me a more dangerous foe
“Let’s find out.”
Lei raised the wand and there was a brilliant flash of electricity. The bolt smashed into Harmattan. Chips of blackened metal went flying, and when the smoke cleared Pierce saw that the blast had punched a hole straight through the stranger’s chest almost a foot across.
He was still standing. He hadn’t even shifted position, and as Pierce and Lei watched in surprise, the gaping hole slowly filled itself in. It was then that Pierce realized: Harmattan wasn’t covered in a coat of metal shards. His entire body was composed of tiny pieces of metal. He was like a statue made of sand. Some force was holding these particles together—and within seconds, he had simply readjusted his mass to erase the gaping wound.
Lei released a second bolt. This one struck the stranger in the head. No creature of flesh and blood could survive such a blow, but when the flash had faded, Harmattan was still standing. The mystical energy had evaporated the cloud
of mist hiding his features, and now Pierce could see the stranger’s head—the head of a warforged soldier. It was blackened, but intact, and Pierce guessed that it was forged from nearly indestructible adamantine, but it was far too small for Harmattan’s massive body; it was about the same size as Pierce’s own head. It was floating above his torso, hovering at least three inches in the air.
Lei’s wand only held enough energy for two blasts, and now that charge was drained. She slipped it back into her belt and gripped her staff in both hands. Pierce had an arrow drawn, and he kept his eyes on Harmattan, wondering if a simple arrow would have any effect on the strange creature.
Neither of them saw the slender figure slip out of the shadows behind Lei until it was too late. A metal elbow slammed into the base of Lei’s skull, followed by a powerful fist. Lei staggered forward, nearly dropping her staff, and turned to face the new foe.
“So you are his lady.”
The warforged had abandoned the robe and cloak she’d used as a disguise in Sharn and Stormreach, and Pierce had to admire her design. The blue enamel on her plating seemed to shift with the shadows, blending into the darkness. Her frame was light and willowy, built for deadly speed instead of brute force. As she spoke, adamantine blades slid into place.
“You should have killed me when you had the chance,” Lei said.
The air rippled around her fingers, and Pierce remembered the scout she had destroyed earlier that day, aand he remembered another battle—a struggle beneath Sharn, when she had turned that same power against him.
“STOP!” He cried, his voice rising to its maximum volume. He unleashed his arrow, striking the ground between the warforged and the artificer. “Lei. Do not fight, and you—if you harm her, I swear that I will destroy you.”
There was a moment of silence. Then the dry voice washed across the clearing.
The assassin took a step back, her blades disappearing into her arms. “As you wish.”
Pierce felt a strange fascination as he watched her. The
bladed scouts, this Harmattan—they seemed so alien that it was hard to think of them as being members of his own race, but the blue woman—there was something about her, a feeling he couldn’t explain.
“Lei,” he said. “Daine has abandoned us. It seems we will be traveling with these people.”
again, and Pierce realized that it was what he did instead of laughing.
aine was surrounded by darkness.
He couldn’t feel anything. He couldn’t see or hear. He was stranded in endless gloom.
Just a month ago, his first thought would have been
am I dead?
Dolurrh was said to be an empty void, a net that pulled in the souls of the fallen and held them until all memory and thought had faded away. A few weeks ago, Daine might have felt traces of panic, fear that this was the end.
Instead, his first thought was
His second thought was to evaluate the qualities of the void, with the attention a connoisseur might give to a fine Aundairian vintage. When he was attacked by Tashana, the shadows were cold and viscous. That darkness was like tar—he could struggle against it, but there was so much pressure he could barely move.
Here, there was no pressure at all. He seemed to have no body. Trying to move an arm—there was no struggle. It wasn’t cold, because he couldn’t feel any sort of temperature. There was nothing at all. All he had were his thoughts.
His next thought was
am I dead?
Before confusion could turn fully to fear, he heard a sound. A distant voice, raised in song. At first, it was pure music. Slowly Daine began to make out individual words, though he could not understand the language. As he concentrated on the song, he began to feel sensation returning, as if his spirit was flowing back into his body. There was no strength in his limbs,
but at least he could feel his arms and legs again, his heart beating in his chest. The song continued, but now he realized that it wasn’t a song at all—it was a conversation. There were two voices, alternating and pausing. The language was fluid and lyrical, but the patterns weren’t those of music, and though the accent was strange, the cadence too quick, he recognized the language.
Daine had never learned the Elvish tongue, but he’d fought Valenar soldiers on the southern front, and he’d learned to fear the sound of an Elvish battlecry. The shadows that attacked them—slender, swift, and now he thought about it, shorter than most humans—elves. He was certain of it.
Feeling had returned to his arms and legs—enough that he could sense what an uncomfortable position he was in. He was lying flat on his stomach, with his face pressed against moist earth. His arms were stretched behind his back, his legs pulled up, and his wrists and ankles bound together. He tried pulling at the bonds, to no avail; the cord was strong, the knots tight. As slight as this motion was, he apparently attracted some attention; the singing voices broke off, and he heard someone kneel down next to him. Taking a deep breath, Daine lifted his head and opened his eyes to look at his captor.
He’d expected to see an elf: pale skin, pointed ears, fine features, large eyes with green or violet irises.
He was half right.
It was still deep night, but there was a clear path to the sky above, and the moons cast their light on the man kneeling over him. The figure staring down at him looked like an elf—at least, in silhouette, but his eyes were blank white, with no trace of veins, pupil, or iris. Half his face was missing. No, his skin was jet black, darker than any man Daine had seen, and almost invisible in the shadows, but it was covered with corpse-white patches, patterns that were too regular to be natural. The left half of the man’s face was a white mask, a stylized skull that covered much of his skin. As Daine’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, he saw that the stranger had markings on the right side as well—fine white traceries running under his right eye and out to his long, black ear, than dropping down the side of his neck.
Words, perhaps, or some sort of mystical inscription.
From his vantage point with his chin in the dirt, Daine could see little beyond the stranger’s head. The man had pale, silver-blond hair drawn into thick braids, and he wore an odd cap over his forehead, apparently made from the iridescent shell of a white lobster.
“You’d better let me go. Now.”
“Why do I do this?” It was the voice from the previous battle; this was the man who had thrown the curving stick at him. As before, his words seemed to flow together, and Daine had to struggle to make sense of it:
Daine tested his bonds again. “When I get mad, I … bite people.”
A smile flickered across the lips of the strange elf. He sang a phrase in his liquid tongue, and Daine heard hisses around him—apparently the laughter of the other elves.