Excerpt From "The Three Vows"
The Mistress and the Hound
One last job. Then she promised he would be free. He clung to this hope as he left his horse tied to the tree and strode towards the ruined temple. He wondered if she sensed his approach each time...if she sensed the hunger waking within him whenever he neared her presence. That damned hunger she’d used to control him all this time.
He slipped through the broken gate into the sanctuary and tried to ignore the graven images of the gods and goddesses staring down at him as he approached the altar at the far end. She’d been a priestess of healing and mercy once, before the fall. Now she existed as a servant of death. What did that make him then?
He skirted the shattered altar and down the stairs at the back, into the barrows beneath the temple. The rusted door at the bottom of the stairs swung open as he approached, though no visible hand touched it on either side. He cast leery glances about as he entered the stone tunnel, exchanging fresh air for grave dirt. He’d responded to her summons at least a dozen times now, yet had never seen another person or creature during his visits. However, the catacombs remained swept eerily clean and devoid of any sign of use or habitation.
The tunnel wound past hundreds of granite coffins interred in the earthen recesses, unknown dead slumbered in their eternal repose. At last, he entered a long, low hall that had been converted into her dining chambers, green torches casting moldering shadows all about.
She sat at the far end of the dining table, dozens of empty chairs filling the space between them. He knelt. Careful to not make any threatening moves, he unstrapped his recurve, repeating crossbow from his back and laid it on the ground beside him.
“My lady. You commanded my presence?”
She held a silver goblet in one pale-fingered hand, while her crimson eyes peered at him over the rim. Whatever liquid it held, the moldy reek of it reached his nose, even from afar. He’d smelled worse gutting kills in the wilds, yet for some reason, its thick, metallic stench almost made him gag.
Her voice sounded as broken chimes, clinking with musical quality, but slightly off-key.
“Two days from now, the high elven princess known as Siavell Olustrian will be passing through the northwestern corner of my territory on a pathetic mission of peace and healing. She is to be separated from her escorts and delivered to the demon known as Dragskel, at the base of the Gloampeak Mountain, offered as a sacrifice and sign of my loyalty. There are to be no survivors from her royal guard, and her fate is to be declared throughout the region as a clear message to any who would defy me or the one I serve.” She raised a slim eyebrow. “Are these instructions clear?”
He swallowed hard as she picked up a lump of roasted meaty bone. The crackle and grind of her gnawing filled the chamber.
She brushed white hair over both shoulders, smearing the tips of her pointed ears with grease. “Excellent. I expect a full contingent of scythe-masters to be accompanying her. Will any of this pose a problem?”
“If you thought it would, you never would’ve hired me.”
“True. Though hired would be a misnomer.”
He bared teeth at the floor. “You elves and your big words.”
She rose in fluid motion and sauntered his way, bloody shank still in hand. “It merely means this is all a formality. I command. You obey. Just because coin and contracts are involved doesn’t mean you’re any less a slave than the others I oversee.”
The muscles along his neck tightened. “I’m no slave.”
She laid the raw meat on his shoulder, as if knighting him. “Believe whatever you wish to soothe your filthy soul.”
Then he did dare to raise his eyes to meet hers, which glimmered like droplets of blood. “You’re calling me filth, darkspawn?”
Her grin revealed perfectly white teeth filed to points. “Of course. After all, I further the ends I truly believe in, while you betray everything you hold dear with every breath you take and every life you strike down. All for a few chips of metal and the ability to sleep a bit better at night, no less. Isn’t that so?”
He tracked up the curve of her emerald gown, drawn to the tantalizing slits in it and the near-translucent skin beneath. Then her fingers jammed into his lanky hair, tightening as she forced his head back down.
“I didn’t give you permission to look up, hound.” Grip still holding him fast, she patted his cheek with the chunk of meat, streaking his skin with gristle. “Let’s be honest. You don’t care about me. You don’t care about who I serve or my ultimate ends. Instead, all you care about is a moment or two of pleasure. Because I offer you more than coin. I offer you the ecstasy of oblivion.” Thrusting him away, she reached into a fold of her dress and pulled out a smoky crystal the size of his thumbnail. “I give you all the delights you crave.”
His eyes fixed on the crystal, and his tongue darted over his lips. His voice croaked. “You...disgust me.”
“Liar.” Her laughter sliced his ears like shattered glass. “You disgust yourself. Oh, you may pretend I’m the source of all your ills. Please do, if that helps you complete your tasks with greater efficiency. You might even convince yourself for a time that you act of free will, or still possess something resembling a soul.”
“This is my last job for you. We...we agreed.”
She threw the meat aside and held the crystal up, perched on stained fingertips. “True, and it may surprise you that I hold to my promise. Once this task is completed, I will never call on your services again.” Her lips parted in a wicked grin. “But I’ve little doubt you’ll come snuffling and sniveling back, begging for what only I can provide. Begging to serve again to get the relief only I can bring. Perhaps you’ll even slink among your own kind for a while. You’ll raise a tankard of your ale slop and curse my name and revel in temporary defiance. But then...oh, then you’ll whine and whimper at my feet, because you know the truth.”
She waved the crystal back and forth, making his eyes track it. “You’re a hound. My hound. A rotting, rutting dog, good for nothing but making and tracking corpses; forever collared and leashed. I set your snout to the path. I set your teeth to the throats of my enemies. And you always obey. Isn’t this so?”
He tried to choke down the words, but they slipped from him nonetheless.
“Yes, my lady.”
She inspected the crystal as if searching it for a flaw. “Do you know where these treats come from? I make them especially for you, did you realize? You should feel honored.”
“I...you honor me, my lady.”
Her eyes narrowed into carmine slits. “You didn’t ask me where these originate.”
“I don’t...I didn’t...”
“They are fragments of the souls you’ve claimed on my behalf. They are the condensed essence of those you’ve doomed to my master’s domain.” She tilted her head. “Does that please you? Or does it make your stomach roil all the more? Please, be honest. I’ve long-ago learned to know when you’re lying.”
He muttered, “Your damned soul isn’t worth a single shard you’ve fed me.”
Eyes flaring, she stepped back and lifted the crystal. Gray and brown tendrils writhed within its depths. “Sit. Beg!”
He knelt, raising trembling hands, mouth open. He kept his eyes averted, not daring to tempt her wrath, even as the deepest scrap of his soul craved to snatch up his crossbow and send quarrels through her heart...her eyes...her skull. Instead, he remained quivering in place until she bent and placed the crystal on his outstretched tongue. His lips closed in reflex, and she snatched her fingers away.
The crystal melted. An instant later, pure rapture tore through him, casting sense to the ten corners of existence. He lost all balance and would’ve toppled, cracking his chin against stone, except she let him brace against her thighs. She stroked his hair as he shuddered, letting the joy incarnate ripple through him. The pleasure ate deeper into his body, adding another link in the chain binding him to her.
“Good boy.” Then she pointed to the grand archway leading from her hall. “Now...fetch.”
The Three Vow's, The Chronocles of Ollundra and all associated works are under copyright © Composite Games Limited 2013 - 2014