Episode 1 – Fyre Starter

Somewhere inside the magnificent fortress of Candlekeep, the sage, Fedrel Ran, sits in a plush chair next to a cozy fire, the flames warming the lofty room that looks out onto the night-shrouded coast. In his lap, resting against his crossed legs, an open notebook accepts the ink from a quill that glides across the pages, seemingly on its own, recording the current interview. The sage swirls the contents of a wine glass before taking a dainty sip. “Your book is most intriguing, but I feel it lacks something.” He pauses and studies the mage across from him.

She sits in an equally eloquent chair, but she sits on the edge, her legs crossed while she cradles her knee with interlaced fingers. She’s leaning forward, her dark lips curving in a childish grin and her yellow slitted eyes bright with excitement. Her green skin glows softly from the flickering light in the room. The wild locks of her dusty blue hair spill over her purple tunic, which drapes over her shoulders, hiding her tall but lanky torso.

He clears his throat and says. “You begin your story in Thay, but we . . .” he pauses, gesturing lazily at himself and then toward the door of the room. His interviewee follows his gesture with her slitted pupils, but snaps back to him as his hand rests back onto the arm of his chair. “We would like to know how a hobgoblin . . . erm, excuse me. A half-hobgoblin, ended up in Thay in the first place. But from the very beginning. Please, tell me your whole story.”

Her smile widens and she looks out the window behind him, her nose ring and the one in her eyebrow flashing briefly during the movement. Her bright eyes travel to distant places, and she begins her tale, her thick Thayan accent permeating the room:

I remember that night remarkably well. The moon illuminated the ground with a soft white glow, highlighting the dry grass that grew sparsely across the red earth, and the leaves left spidery shadows over the hard ground. I slipped into the slave barracks, and found my mother, a human, sitting on the floor next to her bunk, knitting a sweater for me. I had slinked out of the nursery where the shamans kept all the children to be with her that evening. I tiptoed over, then crawled into her arms, interrupting her work.

Hobgoblins rarely spent time with their children after their birth. The shaman’s responsibility, aside from earning favor from Maglubiyet, was also to raise the children of the tribe. However, my mother was a human and loved me greatly despite my green skin tone and hobgoblin eyes. That night, she held me and rocked me to sleep.

I don’t remember how long I slept, but the sounds of shouting and fighting awakened me with a start. My mother scanned the room, panic dominating her features. Finally, she shoved me under the bed and told me to stay quiet and not to come out, no matter what happened.

From my vantage, all I could see were ankles moving this way and that. I tracked my mother’s knit socks darting around the bed toward the rear exit with all the other slaves. Moments later, I watched as bodies fell to the floor, each decorated with one or two black darts in their neck or back.

Turning my head to find my mother’s socks again, I observed her lying on her stomach, unmoving. I stared at her with growing horror. From my position, I couldn’t tell if she was dead or alive, so when the jet black hands hauled her from off the floor and dragged her out, I gasped.

Lithe, dark-skinned creatures with pointy ears extracted the slaves from the building and I inched backward so they wouldn’t spot me peeking out. Suddenly, I felt hands grasp my ankle and yank me out from under the bed, scraping my knees across the rough clay packed floor.

Episode 2 – A Fyre-ey Lesson

Fedrel Ran sits up from his reclined position, his brows pinching together in thought. “Were you aware of who your captor was at the time, or did you learn later?” he asks the mage sitting across from him.

Her shimmering orbs focus on him, her slitted pupils bouncing as she alternates her focus on Fedrel’s left then right eye, and she smiles knowingly. She waits before starting her tale again, and Fedrel grows uncomfortable under her maniacal scrutiny. Finally, she speaks again:

Hobgoblins are generally not stupid, but I had always been brighter than most, and I had learned to read quickly. The shamans had books on the different species of sentient creatures, so I knew immediately that my captor was a drow, or dark elf.

He suspended me over his head, and I hung there, upside down, looking into his red eyes. Gripping my skull, he twisted my head left and right, appraising his new catch. Terror fluttered through my stomach, but the little flapping moths and I had been acquainted before, and I had learned to respond with friendliness.

I gave him a big toothy grin, and said, “Helloo!” As expected, he rewarded me for my efforts. He smacked me across the face with much more enthusiasm than I deemed necessary, and I began to snivel, which rewarded me another smack across the face; this time, my untouched cheek met the back of his hand. After this treatment, I held my sobs inside, but I couldn’t stop my tears. My maniacal pretense had obviously had little effect on him.

His condescending sneer, which had thus far been his only feature, transformed into a predatory smile, and he said to me in a broken goblin accent, “You will speak only when I let you, and you will cry only when I let you.” He lifted me to the window, where I observed more of his kind throwing my kin onto a roaring bonfire. “Speak out of line again, and I will toss you in that fire. If you can’t follow instructions, then I have no use for you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” I responded, as I had been taught to respond to the shaman.

His smile twisted into a smirk. “Very good,” he said, and then carried me out of the building. All around me, I noticed my people piled, unmoving, into carts. The elves shackled the conscious ones to each other with heavy chains and solid steel collars and cuffs. He carried me to a cart with a cage over the top. The iron door squeaked in protest as he opened it, and he tossed me into its gaping mouth. It squealed again as he shut me in.

Many of the other children squatted in there, hugging their legs. Their eyes, widened with shock and fear, peered out over their knees. I shuffled to the back next to Mulzun, my half-brother. “Have you seen Daddy?” I whispered to him.

“Shut up, Aila!” he whispered back. He was a little too loud though, and the door screeched open again. The drow reached in, grabbed Mulzun by the collar, and yanked him out of the cage. Mulzun shouted in protest, kicking and punching futilely at his captor. The dark elf carried him back toward the fire. We could no longer hear Mulzun’s protests over the rest of the din, but we gazed out as the drow tried to toss him into the fire.

My brother maintained a death grip on the elf’s wrist, temporarily saving himself from the flames. However, the disproportionate size and strength difference offered my brother little to no advantage, and the dark elf grabbed Mulzun’s top knot and yanked him off of his arm. My brother hung there, feebly thrashing against the air.

The drow used Mulzun’s top knot as a fulcrum and tossed him underhanded into the flames. The moths in my stomach took off in flight, and I vomited. Although my brother had been cruel and violent toward me, I still lamented his loss, and I couldn’t help but to feel partially responsible for his violent end.

The drow stalked back to the cage. We all shuffled to the very back of it. He gifted us with that predatory grin again. “Anybody else want to talk out of turn?” he asked. I was the first to shake my head, and soon, we all silently answered his question, our heads swiveling back and forth on our necks.

He slammed the gate shut and shouted something to his comrades. The cart lurched forward.

Michael C. Sahd, author of The Unfettered Child and Assassin Marked

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