Fedrel pours himself some more wine, his hands shaking, and a frustrated scowl tugging at the corners of his mouth. After filling his glass, he stands up and starts pacing the room. Fyre’s golden eyes follow his movements, her slitted pupils tracking back and forth. Fedrel finally stops in front of a bookshelf and studies the books inlaid at eye level, his back to Fyre.

Lifting his wine glass to his frown, he downs the entire glass of wine in a couple of gulps, then abruptly turns on his heel and advances to his chair. He sits down and leans toward Fyre, looking her directly in the eyes. She returns his stare with her maniacal smile. “Please!” he says, “Your tale is already so grim; don’t tell me it gets worse.”

Fyre blinks and sits back in her chair, turning her attention back to the fire. Reaching for the flames, a flickering ball of the conflagration glides to her hand and dances above her palm. She uses magic to change its color and shape, and eventually begins to speak while playing with her burning toy:

It gets worse before it gets better. It always seems to get worse before it gets better. The drow, of course, whipped me after my feeble attempt at a rescue, and Marthus was also whipped for trying to intercede. We spent our final hour together strapped to a whipping post. Marthus and I looked into each other’s eyes before I lost consciousness.

When I awoke, I found myself inside a cage with other children, but Marthus and Sornin were nowhere in sight. The excruciating pain that straddled my back made it difficult to move. Looking around, I found that the cage was situated in a nondescript, wooden room, but stairs along the longest wall led up to a platform that extended out of the room, and I could see skulls floating around the underground complex I had seen a year ago.

A drow in impressive finery flitted around the stage, speaking rapidly and pointing off the opposite side of the stage. Next to him stood a child held fast with a steel collar attached to a chain. The child’s head bowed dejectedly, his chin against his chest.

Other voices carried over the stage, but I could not see the source from my vantage. Eventually, another drow in chain armor walked into view, grabbed the leashed child, and dragged him off the opposite side of the stage, while the finely dressed dark elf took the opportunity to sip from a waterskin.

When the armored drow returned, he headed straight for the cage I was in, holding an empty collar at his side. He grabbed my ankle and dragged me out of the cage, my back dragging on the ground, and I screamed in pain, almost losing consciousness. Turning me over, he mumbled something I couldn’t understand, and I felt almost instant relief in my back. Then he fitted the collar around my neck and dragged me toward the stage.

When I peaked the stairs, I saw what the drow in finery was pointing at. When he rattled off something, a person in the crowd would shout something. Then he would point at the person and rattle off some more, and another would raise their hand, and he would point again. This strange ritual continued for quite a while, until just two in the crowd raised their hands alternately: a drow female surrounded by an entourage of armored guards and a dwarf in heavy steel armor with a gigantic axe over his shoulder.

Eventually, when the drow female raised her hand, the crowd went silent. The one next to me smiled and I was dragged over to the female. When I reached her group, she grabbed my chin, studying me like one would study fruit at market. I smiled at her and was rewarded with a stinging slap to the face.

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

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