tagSci-Fi & FantasyOf Flesh and Blood Ch. 00-01

Of Flesh and Blood Ch. 00-01

byLady_Blackhawk©

OF FLESH AND BLOOD

PROLOGUE

My carefree life had come to a crashing halt. I'd really done it this time, but this time unlike the others there was not a way of getting myself out of it.

My mission had been to investigate various attacks on merchant wagons that traveled from The City of Splendors to The City of Sails. The attacks had always come near the small settlement of Shepherdstown, which was not too far from the famed Neverwinter Wood. Shepherdstown was also the place that I'd called home when I wasn't seeing to my duties of being one of the Greyhands or to the rigors of being owner of a fairly decent inn called The Dancing Jug, which was located in the Trades Ward of the Realms jewel by the sea.

Because of my ties to Shepherdstown and my link to the country lord that ruled over the settlement, the leader of the Grey Hands had sent me to look into the attacks. The Lords of Waterdeep had taken personal interest in why the shipments had not been getting through. They didn't trust a small time upstart Lord to get to the heart of the matter. Since I was the newest recruit, I'd been assigned to investigate.

But little did I realize it would embroil my faithful companions and I into a caper that would hit far too close to home. As I delved into the mystery, noting the claw marks all over the remains of the wagons left behind, I didn't have a clue that I'd come face to face with my worst enemy. The one person who'd made it his mission to see me dead. Then, only when he achieved that could he say I no longer stood in his way of total domination.

I'd known he'd turned his back on the clans, and in his quest for ultimate power and destruction had unleashed a vicious attack upon the nine separate clans with a deal he'd made with the lycanthropes. Due to the deal most of my people, the wild elves, had become werecreatures while the ones who chose to stand and fight had been killed outright.

When the wolf tracks led my companions and I to the hunting estate of a Waterdhavian noble, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that something sinister was afoot. Even though I knew it was wrong and could affect my place within the ranks of prestigious Grey Hand Enforcers, I broke into the house. The paw prints led right to the cellar of the manor house. I knew it was crucial to my investigation to know why, before I started making unfounded accusations; that would do nothing but ruffle feathers of the nobility. My companions and I sneaked around, hunting for clues to where the wolves, better yet, the werecreatures had disappeared. All my instincts told me I was on the right path. I recalled a group of Lycanthropes I'd encountered in the forest, headed up by a female who'd had some connection to my enthralled older brother. That particular group had been responsible for a heinous attack upon a centaur village that left no survivors. I often counted myself fortunate for my combat skills. I wielded my mercurial greatsword as if it were an extension of my arm, dealing death to the evil that stood in my way.

I knew my instincts had not led me astray, but the Lord of the manor had vehemently denied any knowledge of it. Something didn't feel right. Something niggled in my brain that he knew more than he was willing to let on, and it was up to me to find out. It all just wasn't adding up. The wolf prints, the werecreatures in the forest, the claw marks on the wagons then the wolf we had chased to the lair of a very angry Hill Giant. I realized it was a setup. Someone wanted us to follow those tracks, hoping that the Hill Giant would end our snooping.

It was only when the Lord threatened to bring my superiors into this debacle then dismissed me did I hear a voice I knew all too well. That familiar voice sent shivers racing up and down my spine. It was Amakiir, that conniving son of a bitch. I knew he was behind this. He had been the author of all my misery. He alone had caused me to doubt myself for so many years. I should've known from the moment we'd encountered werecreatures that he had something to do with it. It was he who held my older brother, my favorite brother, Karowyn, spellbound. Karowyn now did Amakiir's bidding. The only good thing Amakiir had ever done for me was help me locate the father I'd never known. Meeting Davorin Darksbane had been like finding the missing part in the puzzle of my life. The only thing I didn't need, however, was Amakiir's meddling.

I should've known better when I burst into the room from where his voice was coming, it was a setup. My inner rage got the best of me and I charged forth. Amakiir had been ready, though, and being the highly experienced wizard he was, evaded my attack with his magic, taunting me with voices in my head and allowed me to destroy everything within the room while he watched from a hallway.

It left me with no choice but to run. I'd committed a crime against a noble, yet I hoped my connections to the Grey Hands would help. Every fiber of my being raged at the betrayal I felt. I knew Amakiir was behind it all. He was here to taunt me, to further his desire for power. The one thing I didn't understand was why he had aided my escape from the hunting manor. Or why he'd sent me away, convincing me it wasn't the right time and place for our showdown. I knew, though, that he'd thrown several spells at me, spells that I'd managed to find the willpower or fortitude to shrug off.

I was the only one who could stop him at this point. It was imperative that I succeed and give my people the restitution they deserved, but for all my carefully concocted designs at revenge, I could never make the allowance that Amakiir would interfere.

Such was the case when my companions and I returned to Shepherdstown to seek council with Lord Eath. I had learned from my forest gnome companion, called Squib that Lord Eath, Darvic by name, had left the castle but not returned. It struck me odd when I arrived at the castle bailey it was Lord Eath who greeted me.

The whole damn situation puzzled me. It also stunk to the high heavens. Mischief and other dark deeds were afoot here, I knew something wasn't right. Instinct told me that it all led back to Amakiir, but unfortunately I had no proof of the matter. The ones who'd assigned me to this case wouldn't take gut feelings and natural intuition that a great evil was at work in this matter.

I realized this was all a cleverly designed setup, one that preyed upon my actions and used them to damn me in the eyes of the authority I had pledged myself. That realization had come too late.

Then when I believed the situation couldn't possibly get worse, it did. Voices filled my head, coaxing my anger then brought me to a completely unstable frame of mind. I raged against those who interrogated me, making threats. My threats soon turned to violence when I unleashed my killer sword. I lashed out towards anyone with the guts to try to subdue me. When the red haze of rage subsided, two guardsmen lay dead, eviscerated from the strength of my brutal attacks.

It was then I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I was in real trouble. I had really done it this time and there was no way of escaping the punishment.

CHAPTER 1

Once stripped of all my possessions, I was led to a portal within Castle Eath that would return me to Waterdeep, back to the place my shame had originated. My hands were manacled with adamantine. I spent a whole day and night being interrogated. With zealous fervor I held firm to my story. I explained the conspiracy theory of my brother's forcing me through magical means to go berserk thus losing control.

None of my explanations held any weight and my trial came quickly. The family members of the murdered guardsmen demanded justice, with such fervor it forced the Lords of Waterdeep to place me within an undisclosed secure location, surrounded by an antimagic field. No one would be able to teleport in to do any harm.

A part of me knew the ones in power that questioned me didn't believe my story. The leader of the Grey Hands had no knowledge of the mission he'd allegedly sent me upon. Other even more damning testimony brought to light that this wasn't the first time I'd drawn my sword against another guardsman, killing them in purported cold blood. My version of protecting a good friend had been picked apart and torn to shreds until it held no weight at all. I listened as one after another all my acquaintances and so-called friends had come forth, spewing tales of my reckless rages, my blatant disregard for myself as well as others and my need for the kill. I knew deep down it damned me in the eyes of everyone around me. The few that had come forward to speak of me in a good light found their honesty met with questions about their own character. How could anyone willingly travel with someone so prone to violent outbursts? Had fear been the reason they'd remained by my side?

Amakiir's appearance had led to the worst and the most damning testimony given. He refuted my claims that he had anything to do with the tragedy that had befallen the clans or that he had used any form of magic. It angered me that his account of my meltdown had been more believable. But the nail in my proverbial coffin came when Karowyn testified. It appeared that he was there by his own free will. The collar Amakiir had forced upon Karowyn in order to control him was absent. It struck me as odd. What game was Amakirr playing? When Karowyn divulged the reason he had sent me away from home, a quiet hush came over the courtroom. My voracious appetite for sex and violence had grown out of control. He feared for the safety of his people. He even ventured that I'd been the one to initiate contact with the werefilth to get even for being exiled.

The final damning testimony came in the form of my mother, Allia, coming forth. Tears poured down Allia's face as she told of her daughter's constant need to see something hurting, of the animals I'd bring into my bedroom and torture just to see them bleed. Allia recalled setting many broken bones and patching cuts and lacerations. She likened me to my father, a priest of Bane, bringing to light his evil ways as the reason she had brought the relationship to an end. Davorin had left, taking my twin sister Cayden with him. Allia then admitted that her clan would've been better off if she'd allowed Davorin to have both girls.

I knew deep in her heart that my mother's testimony was a lie. I'd never hurt any animals like that, but I felt a pang of guilt over what Karowyn had said. It was true. Karowyn had sent me away because I spent too much time bedding his men. It was in that moment I decided I'd drop Blackhawk from my name. I no longer felt like one of them, not after they'd betrayed me so completely.

I surged out of my chair and flipped the table, throwing it across the courtroom. "That's not true," I screamed, rage filling me as I bore angry eyes at my mother. I rushed forth towards Allia. "You're lying. I never did those things. Amakiir's making you say these things. He's the one who used his spells against me. Shocking me, burning me, hurting me, and you know how deeply Davorin loved you."

Several guards surrounded then took me down, shackling my hands and feet together before placing me within an adamantine cage. My outburst ultimately worked against me. Once subdued, other testimony ensued; I wept as Verrshaun came forth. He was the one person I hadn't wanted to see here. My one time Catfolk cohort and best friend had left me because my desire for adventure had caused his death... twice. It wasn't enough that I'd him resurrected. He had decided that the life of an adventurer wasn't for him. He simply didn't share my desire for the kill.

Once both sides had rested their cases, and had made their closing arguments, I'd been sent back to my cell to await the verdict. I've lived a hard life and regret many of the things I've done, but none of them hit as hard as listening to Verrshaun tell the reasons he'd left. Part of me wanted to die rather than ever see the look on his face.

"Long have I walked the road to ruin," I whispered to the walls while burning tears slipped down my face.

When the trial reconvened, I sat, feeling quite subdued, waiting with bated breath to hear my fate. I hung my head as the verdict was read. They pronounced me guilty of all charges and read my sentence. Only the surprising intervention of Amakiir saved me from being put to death. That revelation shocked me greatly. Why wouldn't he want me dead? I would be forever out of his way. With the death sentence suspended, the Lords of Waterdeep initially sentenced me to exile in Undermountain, but reversed the decision due to the fact that Undermountain wouldn't faze me. An experienced adventurer wouldn't be scared to be within Undermountain. I would most likely succeed in finding a way out. I'd been to Undermountain before and had survived.

So the final sentence was handed down. They sentenced me to twenty years of imprisonment in the dungeons of Castle Waterdeep. During the sentence I would be required to do hard labor. Restitution was to be made to the families of the deceased. I was to forfeit all properties and holdings within the city and upon completion of my sentence I would to be exiled from Waterdeep for all time.

Twenty years of hard labor, I mused, and then exile from Waterdeep. The exile didn't bother me. None of it did, really. I had no real attachments to this place. I could easily give up part ownership of the Dancing Jug. Though Waterdeep had been home, for a while, I couldn't dwell upon it. I'd grown used to losing my home. My heart ached for the loss of my real home when the scourge of the lycanthropes settled upon my people. I had a house in Shepherdstown I'd purchased, but hadn't spent any significant amount of time there. I'd have to send a missive to Lord Eath along with a writ to cover all past and future taxes on my house. Why I wanted to hang onto the house remained a mystery to me, but there was a feeling that I couldn't shake.

I knew still I wouldn't take up residence there once the twenty years was up. No, I planned on heading to Luskan. My father would surely take me in, but the future was something I couldn't dwell upon at the moment. It would be prudent to take one day at a time. I knew not what awaited me in the dungeons of Castle Waterdeep, but I knew I'd have to watch my back. I'd faced down liches, dragons, vampires, giants, and many other scary monsters. Certainly there wouldn't be another prisoner as bad as any of the monsters I'd encountered on my numerous adventures.

Finally they moved me from my tower cell and into the dungeon. I was issued standard prison garb and assigned to a communal cell which housed ten of the hardest female criminals ever sentenced to Waterdeep.

I knew what my first move had to be. I had to establish my dominance in the pecking order. That meant defeating the top dog within the cell. I carefully swept my gaze over each woman. There was a mixture of races. Though predominantly human, I noticed a couple half elves, a tiefling and a half-orc. The half-orc female had rippling muscles and scars upon her hideous, pocked face. She grinned wickedly as she caught sight of me being thrust into the cell.

"Fresh meat!" She snarled and stood up from her seat on what looked like a makeshift throne. The half-orc pushed aside a skinny half elf that sat by her feet and approached. "Bow before Bala, elfling and prepare to serve your master."

I sneered at the half-orc whom had called herself Bala. "I serve no one."

The half orc snarled with rage. "You will. I'll break you, elfling. You'll be my newest bitch."

I laughed out loud. "You don't scare me one bit, orc. I've killed many of your kind before. I'm Callia Darksbane and I'm taking over this cell. You'd better bow before me."

Bala let out a roar of anger, charging at me, the upstart. I met her head on, grabbing the towering half-orc female, using her momentum to slam her into the metal cell bars. I held the half-orc against the bars, slamming my knee repeatedly into the bigger female's lower back and kidneys. Jerking her back, I threw Bala to the floor following her down. I went straight for Bala's throat, wrapping my hands around the thick column of the half-orc's neck. I pressed my thumbs into Bala's windpipe while tightening my hold on her neck. I squeezed, cutting off her air, choking the half-orc to death, then watched as her face went from red to blue to purple. When I was sure the half-orc couldn't resist any more, I quickly twisted, snapping her neck.

I then stood up, kicking the body, and glanced around. "Would anyone else like to challenge me?"

The half elf female who'd been sitting at Bala's feet rushed over to kneel at my feet. "I shall serve you now as I served Bala. How might I be of service?"

"You don't have to serve me," I replied and walked away from the body of the half-orc. "Tell me your name."

"It is Takari," she lowered her eyes and stared at the floor.

"Be at ease, Takari. I have no interest in forcing you to do as that half-orc did. Show me to my bunk so I may get settled in."

Takari scrambled towards the beds. "This is the best one here. It's the softest of all. Bala claimed it as hers, but never slept in it. She slept over there." The half elf pointed to a pile of rags and matted furs near the half orc's makeshift throne.

I inspected the bed thoroughly and sat down upon it. "You need not hover about me, Takari. I'm not like Bala. You aren't my property. You are free to do as you wish."

The half elf trembled as she looked around. "I'm not free. Bala's protection kept the others clear of me. I am not as strong as the other women here. She kept me from being the meat for all. I didn't mind being her property."

I glanced around at the other women in the cell and noticed their leering glares then nodded at Takari. "Sit," I barked and flashed a hard glare at her.

Takari sat at my feet on the floor. "Is there anything I can do for you? And what do I call you?"

"I'm Callia and no, I don't need anything at the moment besides information. Talk to me, tell me all about how things work here."

"You want to know how it works in here," Takari repeated. "For me, I knew I had to have a strong protector. What it comes down to is only the strong survive. It's a constant fight for the best food and the best place to sleep. You can't afford to show any fear or weakness."

I glanced around at the other women. They were a hard lot, their eyes were cold, their expressions forged in stone. My eyes met with those of the tiefling's and held for several tense seconds sizing me up. "No fear huh?" I said, surging from my bunk, I straightened my spine, threw my shoulders back and stalked over to her.

"You must have a death wish," I growled and snatched a hank of her fiery red hair then yanked her from her bunk. "No one challenges me and lives to tell the tale."

A snarl came forth from her lips as she bared her teeth, "I'm not afraid of you. I've never bowed and scraped before anyone, not even Bala, and I am not about to start with you, elf."

Deep sapphire eyes locked with orbs if brilliant green. My hands tightened within the depths of the tiefling's red locks, "Prepare to do so, little bitch."

I slammed her slender body to the stone floor, listening to the sound of bones snapping. She hissed from the pain. Her sharp fingernails slashed out raking my skin while she flailed her legs, kicking with all the force she could muster. I slammed my fists into her body, ripping her tunic to bare flesh, making every strike as painful as possible. I knew I had to show the populace of this cell that I was a force to be reckoned with. The tiefling screamed and fought back, but her paltry efforts were met by my unrelenting assault. When she ceased her wailing and conceded defeat, lying still for a moment, I shoved my thumbs into the sockets of her eyes and pushed with all the force I could muster. She gave one last horrifying scream before her eyeballs burst around the pressure of my thumbs. Pulling back I wiped my hands on the remains of her ratty tunic then swiftly twisted her neck. She died with a sickening snap.

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