DargonZine 29, Issue 1

Death Blooms Part 1

Sy 2, 1019 - Sy 3, 1019


This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Death Blooms

Filth, in every color, size, and dress comes through those doors. They pass thresholds of the Guard and proceed down to the dungeons to wallow in their own shit and squalor. I disgust them because they know my legacy; it has been short thus far, but loud. I disdain them for they are unfit to enjoy life. They deserved those damp, odiferous, confining cells from the day they even thought to commit their evils. Now, I’m not sure if they even deserve that much.

 

***

 

Several feelings welled in Kalen Darklen at once, anger and disgust most prevalent. He washed himself of the emotions quickly, but it was not easy to do. Despite his years with the Town Guard, he still wanted to react violently when terrible things befell Dargon and its citizens. However, he needed to be level-headed when dealing with these matters; his station as Captain of the Guard demanded it.

Sergeant Roman Cepero continued, “He’s detained and no one else got hurt. It was like he didn’t care that he got caught. Like he didn’t even care that he had murdered someone for no reason. I swear he smiled the whole time.”

“I want to see him. There has to be a reason.”

“Straight.”

Both men stood from their chairs and Cepero led the way from the office. Kalen left behind papers and entered the real world where things actually happened in front of him, not behind a piece of parchment.

There seemed to be a buzz about the capture of the murderer and what he’d done as guards here and there spoke with one another in hushed but intense tones. Kalen descended a set of stairs and came upon Aerimon who stood with his arms crossed and his eyes plastered to a wall.

“Aerimon, what has you inside today?”

The normal smile that greeted Kalen was absent today as Aerimon grimly looked at him. He cast his eyes back forward and Kalen realized that he was staring at the door that led down to the dungeon.

Kalen continued, “You heard as well?”

“Everyone has heard, Kalen. Around here at least. Sick murderer like that … Would you mind telling me what you plan to do with him?”

“Figure out if it’s all true. If he had any help at all. We’ll go through all the proper motions, then he’ll be sentenced. Murder wasn’t even the worst of it.”

“How long does all of that take?”

“Days. Maybe a few sennights.”

“Well let me know how it ends if you can. I’m leaving. I need to go hit something.”

“I’ll be joining you later, I think.”

“Sounds good, Kalen. Good luck.”

With that, Aerimon turned and stalked off, his shoulders seemingly a bundle of tension beneath his coat.

Kalen turned and beckoned Cepero to open the door that led down to the murderer caged in the dungeon. The two descended stairs together, passing lit torches set in sconces. Finally, they came down to a landing with a thick iron door. Kalen opened the door and walked through, Cepero at his back.

The stench of the stale dungeon hit Kalen as it always did, and odor like that of long dead things, a palpable force that would last for just a few moments. It faded as he made his way over to the three guards standing in the light of sunbeams streaking through the grating in the wall. Before Kalen could speak, one of the guards hitched a thumb over his own shoulder and said, “It’s this one, sir.”

Kalen nodded and walked over to the bars caging the murderer within. Beyond the black bars, sat a man with a cleanly shaved face and short, groomed hair. He looked at Kalen and smiled, then stood from his seat against the back wall. Kalen was silent as the man moved towards him. He didn’t even step back as the suspect came within a handspan of him, the bars the only thing separating them.

The murderer opened his mouth to speak and Kalen was convinced that his throat contained a graveyard of the most vile and rotten dead. Kalen recoiled from the stench, clasping his hand over his mouth and nose. The man grinned before saying, “I have things for you. Items of knowledge that you will want. But I’m not ready to share them. I don’t know this place yet. This new home of mine is still not my home. Take care of yourself until I’m ready, captain. I’ll die because of this, I know that. But don’t be so foolish as to kill me too soon. There’s still much to do, and much to happen.”

Kalen wanted to respond, but the man pushed himself away from the bars and slunk back to his wall. The odd behavior was too much for Kalen to accept and feel comfortable. He remained silent, staring at the killer. He even kept quiet as he turned to walk away.

“Captain!” The shout from the man caused Kalen to jump. He instantly wanted to slam the man’s head against a wall. You didn’t screw with the Captain of the Guard like that. After taking a moment to stow his hostility, he slowly turned his head to look at him. “Would you be so kind? Some alcohol would be helpful to wash my mouth. Some mint as well maybe. You’d never know such a stench unless you did what I do. I would rather like clean teeth. Thank you, captain.”

Anger tried to strike through Kalen, to seep into his bones and from his pours, but the unease created by the killer was too much for any other emotion to be allowed into him. Kalen knew why his breath was infused with the fetid odor, but he couldn’t ever fathom a man so nonchalant about it. Whatever problems this man had, they ran deep, and they had ruined any sense of humanity he may have once possessed.

Kalen hurried from the dungeon, thinking of the light at the top of the stairs.

 

***

 

Sweat poured from Aerimon and his knuckles and shins throbbed. He’d directed his anger into his training, striking a bag stuffed with smaller bags of sand and wool. When that wasn’t enough to release his fury, he slammed his fist into a wooden beam, hard enough to send a shock through his arm and into his jaw. The pain took the hate away, at least for now.

Now, he jogged through Dargon’s streets, concentrating on the pain, and the people around him. Perhaps he’d run across some heinous crime, providing him another opportunity to vent his anger. He rounded a corner and nearly collided with an elderly woman carrying a basket of vegetables and bread. She cried out in alarm and Aerimon danced around her, calling out an apology as he spun. Then he sped off and saw his destination. Naturally, some of his anger, and even the pain in his limbs, melted away when he thought of Helena.

He came to her door and knocked, the wood rattling in its place. He’d have to hire a carpenter to build and properly install a new, thicker door. The lock turned, the noise causing Aerimon’s heart to leap ever so slightly. He smiled even before she opened the door.

It swung inward and she stood there with a smile. He stood there for a moment, drinking in those striking blue eyes with affection. Short black hair fell to her shoulders in a neat line. She had been his happiness for the past month. She never gawked at his left hand, void of one finger after he was nearly killed by a gang of evil men.

“Hi,” he said as he leaned in to kiss her. He brushed her hair away from her shoulder, revealing a slender, pale neck.

She leaned into him and they embraced for a moment, communicating their passion through their lips. He followed her in as she pulled him forward and said, “Were you training? I thought you only taught today?”

“I just really needed to hit something. It was a long day.”

“Well, I haven’t started dinner yet. I’ve been lazing away today, painting. Although I did wash some clothes and grab some things from Market Square.”

“I’ll take care of dinner. It’ll help take my mind off things.”

Helena looked at him askance. “What happened today, Aerimon?”

He shook his head. “Later. I’d rather not think about it right now.”

She nodded and gave him a reassuring smile. She never pried; he was grateful for that.

Aerimon moved into the kitchen and lit a fire in the hearth. He then filled a pot partway with water and hung it over the small blaze. Carrots and celery lay on the wooden counter near an open window. He moved to them and laid several of each out then began cutting them for his stew.

Helena suddenly appeared at the threshold between the living room and their bedchamber, without a single article of clothing to conceal her body. Aerimon caught sight of her and ceased cutting into a carrot, leaving the small knife stuck in it. He gawked at her pale skin, taking in her curves and breasts, his manhood stirring. Without a word, he left the kitchen and ushered her back into their room and onto their bed, grasping her body and kissing her lips all the while.

With each thrust came a new lesson in pleasure. Aerimon gripped Helena’s curves as they made love, kissed her neck and mouth, squeezed and felt her body. After, they lay together, the light of day gracing them from the open shutters of a window.

Helena rolled over to look at Aerimon and said, “So how is that dinner coming along?”

Aerimon chuckled, then said, “You’re the one who *made* me stop! How could I have kept going?”

She smiled innocently, but a slight wickedness crept into her eyes. Aerimon found it tantalizing. “Well,” she said, “you better get back to it before all the water boils away.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the fire burned out.”

“We weren’t in here *that* long.”

“Hey! Well, it isn’t like we were in here for a quick moment either! Besides … I didn’t put a lot of wood on the fire in the first place. *That’s* what I was talking about.”

They shared a laugh then Helena scooted towards him and pushed him onto his back to lay across his chest. “So, what happened today?”

Aerimon shook his head, running his fingers through her hair. “It was just some guy Kalen caught. He had done some really bad stuff, murder not even the worst of it. It just … made me angry.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here with me now. Are you feeling any better?”

“Much better.”

“Good,” she said with no small amount of smugness in her voice, although she earned it. “I did my job well then.”

“You always do, Helena.”

They shared a quiet moment together, enjoying each other’s company. Eventually, Helena said, “I’m glad we live together. It’s been amazing having you here. After losing my fiance, I wasn’t sure if I could feel this way again. I just … I love you, Aerimon.”

Those three words struck a chord on Aerimon’s heartstrings and he couldn’t help but smile his widest. Aerimon knew Helena, and how hard it must have been for her to even feel that way, let alone express it. For a brief moment, he wasn’t sure how he would respond. But then he simply let himself feel, like she must have done, and he replied, “I love you too, Helena.”

The two stared at one another for a long moment. Finally, Aerimon leaned forward and kissed her, but not like ever before. He thought of his love for her and tried his hardest to communicate that feeling through the connection of their lips. He felt successful as she moaned and pressed her body into his. He’d protect her with everything he had.

 

***

 

The extra guards standing watch over the mad killer were all where they should be, attentive and intensely focused. Although Kalen did not favor the idea of speaking to this murderer, he needed to. A day had passed without the man being allowed to eat or drink anything. He’d be less inclined to lie with a growling stomach.

Kalen rapped on the metal bars and the man within stirred in his corner. He seemed to be cleaning bits of dirt from his stale clothing. His voice pierced the dark dungeon, “Yes, captain?”

“I want to talk now.”

“And if I don’t want to?”

“Then you can sit here another day without food or water.”

At that, the murderer slowly rose and shambled over to the bars. He leaned his body against them, placing the side of his head between two bars and staring at Kalen. He looked as though not an ounce of distress or discomfort afflicted him. The two shared an awkward gaze where Kalen saw what looked like affection in the killer’s eyes. Finally, the killer blinked, then said, “Captain, I had a lot to eat before I came here; I’ll be fine.”

Kalen had the strong urge to turn and walk out of the dungeon like he’d done the first day.

“Stop screwing with me. If you don’t become valuable real quick, then I can send you to the Bonecrusher.”

“You won’t do that. You’ll wait at least a few more days. You know, I like to think I could do better than the Bonecrusher. Now, what do you want, captain?”

Thin wisps of dark hair fell down the middle-aged man’s forehead, free of their groomed position. He waited quietly, yearning for Kalen’s words.

“What is your name?”

“Did you happen to get any of that mint?”

Kalen stared silently for a moment, collecting his thoughts and coming to a decision. The odor from the man’s throat had stuck with Kalen since it had first hit his nose. It was something unnatural that caused his stomach to turn over each time he thought of it.

Kalen exhaled loudly, glared at the killer, and pulled several leaves of mint from a pocket. He also grabbed a metal flask and held them both out to the man. Again, the murderer stood there, unmoving for several moments, just looking at Kalen. He began to feel uncomfortable and was near pulling his hands away when the man pushed himself off the bars and stood straight. He reached his hands slowly out and took the items.

Only then, when the killer took the items and stepped back, did Kalen realize he had been holding his breath. The man flicked the cap off the flask and threw the drink back. He swished the alcohol around his mouth then tipped his head back and gargled it until he coughed it up into the air. The strong spirit fell back on him like rain and he continued coughing. A mene passed before he was calm enough to toss the mint leaf into his mouth and chew it.

The murderer had tears rolling down his face from bloodshot eyes when he looked back to Kalen.

Kalen said, “What is your name?”

“Jayko Faas.”

“Jayko. You don’t think I’d send you to the Bonecrusher. I’ll disappoint you very quickly if you don’t convince me why I should keep you alive, now.”

“Because I have friends who helped me and who continue to do what I did. We’re a kind of family. We’ve all been of the same mind for many years.”

A pang of surprise turned Kalen’s guts cold for a moment. He could only imagine a roomful of these kind of people committing their evils. His arms would get tired well before he’d cut each of their heads from their shoulders. But then he remembered that he wouldn’t sully the law that way. He now knew though, that he had a throng of people to bring to justice.

“Give me something.”

“What will I get?”

“Time. You die in here, Jayko; there’s no stopping that. But as long as you help me, I’ll let you live. If you prove to be more useful than I think you’ll be, then I can give you a lot of time. You don’t have to die yet.”

“I like that. I don’t want to die, but I know that all men are mortal. Fine. I have a house for you to go to. If you take me along, then it’ll go so much smoother.”

“That isn’t happening. How about this; you give me the location and I’ll check it out myself? If it proves to be worth my time, then you get a month. Deal?”

Jayko smiled, although a forlorn look came to his eyes. “Deal. A couple of things though: you’ll need to go at the seventh bell of night. Don’t knock. Just whisper, ‘Saren, God of Suffering, I am your hand’, then open the door and walk in. Bring a large force with you. And prepare to be shocked by what you see.”

“The location, Jayko?”

“One more thing.” Now, that clever look had crept back into Jayko’s smile, lending him an air of devious intent. “You should bring Aerimon. He’d be helpful.”

“Why would you say that? How do you know him?”

“Who doesn’t know him? His impact is well known in Dargon. His hatred for evil is even more obvious. You don’t think he ever hunted down men who wronged him? You’ve got to keep your ear to the ground, captain. You have it stuck to paper and the mewlings of the important people too much.”

“Aerimon is a good man. He’s done a lot of good in Dargon since he started working with the Guard. In fact, I heard that you tried to resist when you were arrested, but my men wrapped you up like a child throwing a fit against his father’s chest. They dropped you hard, didn’t they? Did you even land a strike?”

Kalen wasn’t sure why he was provoking Jayko. Perhaps the killer’s arrogant attitude was wearing on his patience, turning his want for justice into a need for anger.

Jayko suddenly slammed his palms into the bars. Kalen leapt backward and drew his sword. The war drum of rushing blood drowned out all other sounds. It wasn’t fear or cowardice that had him jumping back. It was experience and instinct. He was homed in on Jayko, ready to cut fingers off any reaching hands. He was so focused on Jayko that he didn’t notice the other guardsmen who had also pulled their blades free of their scabbards until they were shoulder to shoulder with him.

Jayko suddenly smiled, hiding the teeth he had been baring a moment before. “Captain, you’ll need some paper. The directions may get a little confusing.”

 

***

 

The deep bells of night had long since fallen upon Dargon, casting the city in shadows. Kalen led six other guards, headed towards the location Jayko had given him. They came upon the back of a two-family home after winding through alleys, the door before him the only visible entrance.

Kalen tried to hear something from beyond the door, tried to imagine the madness that was surely ensuing within, tried to understand how Saren played a role in all this. Torture was surely Jayko’s game, and with the phrase about Saren … it had to be a religious cult. It could very well be that Jayko was their leader.

Swords were in the hands of the guards at Kalen’s back when he turned to regard them. He nodded and they offered steel-eyed looks in return. Kalen turned back to the door and whispered, “Saren, God of Suffering, I am your hand.”

Inky shadows lifted from the handle of the door and floated upwards, hissing all the while. Kalen stared, wide-eyed, at the magic. It was a trap, he discerned, that he had just disarmed with the phrase … that, or he had just armed the trap.

Fear begged him to turn around and ask another man to open the door. But he wouldn’t let Jayko into his head. He needed to hold on to his confidence. Otherwise, Jayko would strip it away and make him weak, unable to do his job, unable to deliver justice.

Warily, Kalen placed his free hand on the handle. No bolts of magic speared his flesh and so he twisted it. Smoothly, it glided downwards until Kalen felt the door ready to swing inward. He shot one last look over his shoulder, catching Garay’s eyes for a moment. Kalen turned his gaze to the door once more then flung it open.

Dozens of blazing candles lit a room empty of furniture and windows, casting the scene in great light. The rank odor of the place hit Kalen as he came upon the sights of the inside and he reeled backward, reminded of Jayko’s fetid breath. He shoved the guards out of his way then vomited onto the cobblestones. With the rising bile, came a provoking sense of self-contamination. It was as if puking did nothing to rid Kalen of the wretchedness coming from inside the building, but instead allowed it to seep into his soul.

The other guards were far enough away from the building to stomach the terrible smell. They caught glances of the inside though and stumbled backward from it, their hands covering their mouths in horror. Kalen finally calmed enough to stand straight and regard his men. They all shared gazes of terror, unable to put words to what they had seen.

Finally, Garay said, “Ol’s balls, that’s foul. You all see that covering the floor?”

The others nodded grimly, inching away from the terrible stink.

Garay continued, “Fark. It’s all over the walls even. Sure as hell isn’t often that we see that much blood.”

Again, they all nodded.

Garay seemed as though he was going to vomit. But then, a lithe figure flashed by the threshold that Garay had his back to. The figure darted forward swiftly, drawing all eyes but his own. A hand shot up, a blade made of metal so dark it seemed to actually be a sliver of nothingness clutched in it. Then it came down.

Metal sheered through metal. Garay’s helm screeched as it split open and left his naked skull to the mercy of that terrible blade. A wet thwack came and then the hilt was touching Garay’s helm, his face a mask of utter surprise, even in death.

Before Kalen could blink, Celia turned and brought her longsword down on the attacker’s extended arm. The blade bit through flesh and lopped the limb off completely. Another guard, Tesky, turned and ran his blade through the killer. Then, before a cry could be uttered by the dying man with a blade sticking out his back, Hetrick darted forward and stabbed his own blade through the man’s skull.

Kalen would have remarked on the masterful speed and teamwork of his men if Garay’s corpse was not falling to the cobblestones, limp and lifeless, his sword clattering to the street. Kalen’s hands lost the ability to hold anything at all as his own sword slipped from his grasp. Without a conscious thought, he lunged forward and caught Garay. The veteran of the Town Guard felt so very heavy now, as if his dead body wanted nothing more than to sink to the ground and stay there until time stopped.

But then, Garay began to move. Blood spilling from around the hilt and out of the open face of his helm, the knife still lodged in his brain, Garay began pushing himself up from the street. Kalen let the man go, the man who he knew should be dead and still. He fell onto his back and watched in a stupor as Garay pulled himself up to his full height. Thick tendrils of shadow leaked from the hilt of the blade atop his head.

Garay pulled a short sword from his belt and suddenly lunged to the side, stabbing at Hetrick’s stomach. Hetrick was unable to defend, his own blade still stuck in the dead man’s skull, and so stumbled away. Garay’s blade sliced across his ribs and he grunted. Then, Garay had Hetrick, holding him close with his free hand and pressing his blade deeper into the man’s side.

Hetrick began to scream and the others sprang on Garay, cutting into his legs and stabbing him in the back. No strike seemed to have any effect. Garay began using his blade like a saw against Hetrick’s side. Kalen stood and bolted forward, screaming, “It’s the knife!”

He passed his men as he leapt atop Garay’s back, hooking his legs on the man’s hips and looping one arm around his neck. With his free hand, Kalen gripped the hilt of the blade and yanked it free. The strong, sturdy foundation keeping Kalen up suddenly dissolved and Garay fell to the cobblestones, limp and unmoving once again, his face covered in his own blood.

Hetrick, his side ripped up and leaking, choked down ragged breaths and spewed them back out in screams. Kalen dropped the magic-infused blade as if it had suddenly burst into flame. He then clambered to his feet and hustled to the man now being laid down by the other guards. The wound was a series of deep cuts, a torturous-looking thing. Kalen hollered, “Two of you will stay here and just watch all this. Don’t touch anything! I’ll get the Esoterics to look it all over first. We need to get Hetrick back to the station.”

Kalen stood from his crouch then he and two others helped the wounded man to stand. An ear-shattering screech came from Hetrick and blood spilled from his side, splattering on the cobblestones. The two others supported him and they all began their hustle back to the station. Kalen threw one last glance back inside the building of death, blood, and inhumanity.

 

***

 

The three guards outside of Jayko’s cell rotated, a batch of fresh young men coming to throw caustic looks at him as they monitored his confinement. That meant that the seventh bell of night had come. Jayko smiled, relishing the feel of his tingling muscles and throbbing heart.

Jayko felt the spirits that had soaked into his plain, rough shirt. He pulled the chewed mint from the waistline of his pants and rubbed the leaf between his finger and thumb. Saren would smile upon him tonight. He’d sow great suffering as the reward for his deeds.

One of the guards asked, “What do you have there? You shouldn’t have a damn thing in there.”

All three guards moved to the bars, one of them holding the key to the cell, ready to confiscate what Jayko was holding. Jayko remained silent for a moment, absorbing the unease of the guards. He looked at them with hungry eyes, enjoying their false sense of control. He always reveled in the feeling that came when people thought they held power over him. Only pain controlled him, and he was often its administer.

Jayko finally said, “It is mint. Do you want it?”

The same one that had spoken earlier said, “Yes, give it here.” He held his hand out but didn’t put it through the bars. Jayko ambled forward a few steps. The guard suddenly continued, halting Jayko, “Cut his hand off if he tries anything.” The smile that came to the guard’s face was devious enough to rival his own. His pain would be sweet.

Jayko slowly continued forward, aligning the dark energy running through his body. Sparks arced between strands of muscle beneath his skin, set his organs aflame, devoured the spirits coating his shirt and found new, stronger life. The power sought a target and he directed it into his palm and into the mint. The chewed herb accepted it, changing into something different, hidden from the gaze of the guards by Jayko’s fingers.

A sickness grew in his stomach, a price for the magic he used. He quelled the feeling of the pollution infecting his body and focused on the pain he’d inflict.

The squirming thing in Jayko’s hand stabbed and bit but didn’t seek to control, it simply wanted to inflict pain, and he loved it for that. Jayko held his closed hand over the guard’s, looked into his eyes, then opened his fingers.

The dark, insectoid thing fell upon the guard’s hand and Jayko saw the pain plainly in the guard’s face as it tore through flesh and disappeared beneath the man’s skin. The suffering that Jayko knew the guard would now feel caused pleasure to strike through him. Before the guard could screech or even jerk in surprise, the insect was within his arm, latching onto his veins, pumping darkness through his body.

A connection solidified between Jayko and the guard, who he now knew was named Kassmit and had a wife bearing their first child. Jayko smiled; Kassmit would never meet his child, and his wife would never see him alive again. Suffering would abound.

Kassmit’s visage remained twisted by pain, even as his right hand lashed out and caught the wrist of the guard who had been waiting to cut Jayko’s hand off. Next, Jayko’s puppeteer commanded Kassmit to drop the keys, clear his own blade, and slam it through the guard’s gut. Jayko registered the pain of others as a physical presence. Searing pain oozed from the guard’s side, a horrific sensation for him but a grand one to Jayko.

More suffering infused the air as the guard behind Kassmit slashed into his back, opening a horrendous wound. He didn’t fall though, nor did he cry out. He relinquished the dying guard, pulling his blade free of the man’s side as he twisted around. He thrust his sword at the remaining guard’s chest. Kassmit’s blade was deflected, however, so he stepped in and drove an elbow into the guard’s nose.

Blood erupted from the shattered nose and Jayko relished it. The guard still managed to duck a slash aimed for his neck, despite his pain. He dropped to a knee and ran Kassmit through the stomach, but again, he showed no indication that he’d suffered such a wound. The spell controlling Kassmit kept him stoic, but Jayko certainly knew he felt every bit of the supreme pain.

Jayko watched in such pleasure that his knees grew weak as Kassmit spun his blade to a downward grip and slammed it down through the guard’s shoulder and into his chest. Kassmit then jerked and the blade twisted, ending the man’s life.

When coming upon this dungeon, Jayko had felt the essence of suffering that saturated the atmosphere. Now, pain leaked into the very bars and stones, into Jayko.

Kassmit, on the brink of death, a state that would certainly render Jayko’s spell ineffective, let his blade go and walked over to the cell. He scooped the keys from the stone and jammed one into the cell. He turned it, unlocking the door, and Jayko pushed it open.

The consequence for his use of magic came in different forms. His nails may wither and fall away from his fingers, or swaths of skin would become infected, die, then peel from his body to reveal open sores. This time, he felt his stomach revolt, twisting and tying into a bundle of pain and sickness. He bent forward, placing his shaking hands on trembling knees. He began dry heaving until, finally, a gout of black ichor leapt from his stomach then shot from his throat, a thick string of the stuff lingering between his teeth and the floor. He spat, the rope of stinking ichor coming free and coiling around the pile on the floor.

He stood up and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. A terribly sharp pain still gripped his guts but he knew it would subside with time. The pollution was worth every spell.

Jayko scooped Kassmit’s sword from the floor, enjoying the weight of the instrument of pain. “I know you can still hear me, Kassmit. I know you still feel. I can see into your mind; you’re dying. And I see your family. Think of them. Agonize over their loss.”

Slowly, but with strength, Jayko dragged the blade down Kassmit’s face, opening wide gashes in his flesh. He saw the agony in those eyes, those portals to the inside of a person.

After three cuts, Kassmit was freed of the control of Jayko’s spell. He died, slumping to the floor, a form that would no longer suffer, but had only begun its cycle of pain. Others would suffer over his death, and Saren would find sweetness in that.

 

***

 

Since hearing of Jayko, Aerimon had found his thoughts drifting to that murderous man often. He’d thought of him when he sparred and trained, each time a fresh wave of anger claiming him. It was only now, sitting with Helena, a plate of warm food on a table before each of them, that he was able to forget his anger.

She was beautiful, and not because she wore a bounty of makeup or because she’d spent a lot of time on her hair. It was simply because her personality was something Aerimon loved. They worked well together. He couldn’t feel angry in these few menes.

Helena finished pouring wine into her mug and settled back into her chair. She smiled weakly then took a long sip. Something was bothering her, he could tell.

“What is it?” Aerimon asked with genuine concern.

Helena put her wine down and tried to seem like she wasn’t troubled. It was obvious she was though. “Did you hear about what he told them? Jayko.”

“Straight.”

Jayko had been found on the beach near the docks, a dead body at his feet. Since then, he had admitted to killing others, and it had been a long admission. He didn’t give up any names of accomplices. He didn’t reveal locations. Only gory details.

Aerimon continued, “Is that what’s bothering you?”

“How could he just do that? The others too. Not just the one he got caught doing. He just told the Town Guard about the others. He isn’t even trying to withhold anything! He seems proud of what he’s done! How could that be?”

The anger flared again, like a hammer striking a hot blade. “I’ve tried understanding it. The urge to kill someone, I get that part. But only when they’ve done something to deserve it. What he did … it’s monstrous.” He downed his wine in several quick gulps as soon as he finished speaking.

When he put the mug down to behold Helena he saw tears swimming in the corners of her eyes; his likely looked the same, but from the wine he’d just sucked down. Her mug was still mostly full.

Before Aerimon could ask anything, she said, “You remember when we met?” It wasn’t really a question though. She quickly continued, “I came to you to learn how to save my life if I was ever attacked. To kill someone if they ever tried to kill me.” A tear fell from one of her eyes. “I did it because …” She hitched her lower jaw to the side and she blinked tears from each eye. “My family was murdered.”

Anger was replaced by sorrow. How could a person deal with something so unfortunate and not be crushed so emotionally that they just ceased to go on? In Helena’s case, she took that anger and turned it towards a purpose. No wonder they were so perfect for one another.

Aerimon left his seat and moved to her side. He gently ran his hands along her head and she leaned against his stomach. Silently, she cried for a moment. It was without intensity though, like she had done it plenty of times before. They pulled away from one another and kissed.

“Are you okay?” He asked.

She just nodded. He sat back down but kept a hand on hers.

The right words wouldn’t come to him. Maybe that’s because words weren’t right for the time. Maybe nothing was best.

Helena broke the silence, “Do you think that Jayko will try to get out?”

“I don’t know. Kalen has plenty of guards on him. Besides, he should meet the Bonecrusher soon.”

“Yeah. I guess you’re right. But why hasn’t he yet? Why wasn’t he dead the same day they caught him?”

“These things take a little bit of time. Kalen wants to make sure he gets everything he can out of Jayko before sending him off to be executed. Actually, he has been given another sennight of life inside his cell. He bought it with some information he gave Kalen.”

She leaned forward, placing her palms on the table, and nearly screamed, “What? That isn’t right, Aerimon.”

“It isn’t but it’s what gets Kalen more information.”

“Do you even know what it was? Was it worth it?”

“I’m not sure. I know that a veteran of the Guard was killed.”

“Gods! And that still got him time to live?”

“It was actually reduced from what it originally was. Kalen thinks it was a trap so he only gave Jayko a bit more time. Kalen is just doing things the way he thinks he should. He’s looking at the bigger picture, I guess.”

“I’m just worried about him getting out. And he deserves to die. What if he escapes? It just wouldn’t be right. He did what he did without a reason. Or at least without one that anyone could see, right? That’s how it happened with my family. They were just killed. No reason behind it. Someone just did it because they could.”

Aerimon squeezed her hand. “I know. He deserves much worse than what he did even. If I could, I’d do it now. And I’d do it worse than the Bonecrusher. You don’t need to worry about him; I’m here for you.”

Helena used her thumb to caress Aerimon’s knuckles.

“Have you ever done anything like that? Everyone has heard rumors about you and the gang that tried to extort you. Some people say that you might have gone and taken out a few of them on your own.”

They’d spoken about Aerimon’s trials before now. But never had Helena been so blunt in asking for details. He had always told her that he did what he needed to do to keep himself alive. But maybe he hadn’t only done that. Maybe he had sought vengeance and that was why Gerald had died.

Gerald, the shadow boy with a heart that belied the nature of those thieving kids, occupied Aerimon’s thoughts often. He would daydream of the time that he had set out on a conquest against the weeds growing around his place of business with the boy looking at him oddly all the while. Gerald had done what he needed to do to survive by joining the shadow boys, but he was a shining light amidst them. He didn’t deserve to die. He was only trying to help Aerimon. But by doing so, he’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Aerimon had been forced to watch the boy’s throat open and a torrent of his blood spill to the floor.

“I never tortured anyone, Helena. I hurt people. The way I killed Garrity was pretty bad. I just did what I needed to stay safe.” How much of that was a lie, or only half of the truth?

“Straight … Did you like it?”

“What? Killing Garrity?”

“And the others. If someone had put the person responsible for my family’s death in front of me, I’d kill them and enjoy every moment of it.”

Aerimon had never taken Helena as being a fragile woman, but this was a side of her he hadn’t seen so intensely before.

“I did. They tried to kill me. They killed Gerald. Nothing felt better than when I killed Garrity.”

For a brief moment, Aerimon was taken away from the present and usurped by the past. He imagined the feeling of Garrity’s chest caving in as he slammed his heel into it over and over again. He felt satisfied with what he had done and the pain he knew Garrity endured in his final moments. Garrity had deserved it though; he had been the reason Gerald was killed, the reason why Aerimon had been poisoned and his home burnt to the ground. When evil deserved to die, it deserved to go out kicking and thrashing, begging for death to release it from pain, of that Aerimon was certain.

Helena brought him back, saying, “I bet the families of all the people Jayko got to would feel the same way. It isn’t fair that he sits around still breathing after all he’s admitted to.”

“Maybe I’ll ask Kalen how the process is going. Maybe I can help with something or just figure out how soon until Jayko is dealt with.”

“Hopefully it is sooner rather than later. All those poor families of the victims.” Helena looked to her left, seemingly seeing nothing. Aerimon knew she was thinking of her family and how she had been scarred. She then looked back and smiled weakly. “Let’s just enjoy our time together.”

And they did. Slowly but surely, they were able to steer their conversation to one of a much lighter and happier mood. The night went well and ended with them staring at the stars through an open window. He was restless, however, and knew that Jayko was the reason why.

Aerimon was sure that Jayko had killed kids before, good women and good men, people who just didn’t deserve it. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. Not unless he did something to put his mind at ease in some way.

“Helena, I’m going to go for a walk. My mind is racing. I might go train at the Old Guard House for a bell or so.”

Although Aerimon had whispered, he knew that she had heard him. Or that she would have heard him if she wasn’t sleeping already. He lightly kissed her shoulder then quietly lifted himself to his feet to the side of the bed. He grabbed clothes and a blade from Helena’s room then slipped out.

He dressed in the living room then sat in a chair and pulled boots on. He stood then strapped the blade to his hip. He walked to the front door, pulling a black cloak from a rocking chair and donning it. He stopped at the door, his fingers resting on the handle.

He knew that he was going to the Old Guard House … but for what? Was he really going to train? He decided then that he would at least take a look at Jayko. He wouldn’t do anything to him tonight. He would just look at that man’s face.

Aerimon opened the door and stepped out onto the street.

The night accepted Aerimon gladly, energizing his body. He took off at a quick jog. Soon, he came upon the Old Guard House, lightly huffing. He leapt up the steps in a single bound and shoved the doors open. Those few guards within looked at him oddly for a moment, but he nodded at them and smiled. They went about their business. A guard with his head down walked past him and exited the Old Guard House.

The door to Jayko’s dungeon was around a flight of stairs, mostly hidden from those at the desk near the doors. Aerimon walked that way slowly, hiding the anticipation that set his teeth to grinding. The door to the dungeon was within sight and Aerimon’s heartbeat quickened. However, he saw that the door was left open and he wondered what guard would have been so careless not to lock it once inside.

Aerimon pushed the door open further and entered the darkness and silence within. He descended the stairs, keeping his blade sheathed. He came to the bottom and wore a fake smile so the guards wouldn’t suspect any ill intent behind his visit. It was likely that he had trained each one of them at least once and hoped that would allow him access to peer at Jayko.

Blood glistened in the moonlight coming through the barred window on the other side of the wall. Three bodies lay in the pool, one with a blade stuck deep in its torso. Another was naked besides a loincloth. A pair of pants made of rags sat in a pile near the nearly naked guard. The door to Jayko’s cell was open wide, and inside, it was empty.

Aerimon fell to his knees and inspected the guards, finding them all dead. He turned and sprinted from the dungeon, ravenous for retribution. Once he cleared the steps and exited the stairwell, he hollered, “Jayko’s gone!”

Several guards looked on in confusion for a moment. But then understanding dawned.

“The three guards down there are dead!”

Immediately, those guards that heard him sprinted for the dungeon, brushing past him. Aerimon ran to the woman sitting behind the desk near the doors and said, “He’s in a guard’s uniform. Did anyone come by that looked odd?”

Recognition all but exploded off the woman’s face. “Yes! A guard walked by that wouldn’t look at me. He was holding a shirt or something against his stomach. Not even a mene ago.”

Jayko had walked right past Aerimon without his knowing.

“Tell Kalen!”

“Kalen isn’t here.”

Aerimon had already turned to leave and so called over his shoulder, “Then tell Ilona or Cepero.” He was out the door and leaping down the steps before she could respond.

The night seemed to work against Aerimon now. It hid his quarry, allowed Jayko the cover to slip away. He frantically looked this way and that, down each street and alleyway he could see. Not a person could be seen walking in a guard’s uniform. But perhaps Jayko had already changed somehow. He sought anyone walking the streets alone, but only found groups and pairs. No, Jayko would still be in the guard’s uniform, but he wouldn’t be near. He’d be well down a street and maybe a few alleys away.

A black shape suddenly rolled across the street a bow shot away. Aerimon could barely see it in the darkness, but the wind had moved it, bringing it to his attention. He dashed over to it, nearly colliding with a couple that refused to slow their gait at his sprint. They commented under their breath at his ill manners but Aerimon paid them no mind. The shape took form as he neared it, and he discovered that it was a shirt.

Aerimon’s eyes immediately shot forward and he scanned the street before him. No one he could see was walking away from him. He had to pursue Jayko until there was nothing left to go after. He took off at a sprint down the street, flashing past alarmed citizens. As he went, he heard the sound of guards hollering at one another as they left the Old Guard House. If they followed him belligerently, they’d alert Jayko and he’d disappear. Aerimon needed to find him first and follow him.

Alleys fell away as Aerimon sped past them, casting a quick glance down each one that proved fruitless. The excitement of finding the shirt had begun to dissipate, instead being replaced by frustration and gloom. The darkness of Dargon had accepted Jayko, allowing him to hide out amidst its evil corners.

Breath caught in Aerimon’s throat and he was forced to stop running. He slowed to a halt and stared at the man, wearing a guard’s uniform, walking with another, their backs facing him. A hand suddenly fell on Aerimon’s shoulder and he nearly broke the offending limb.

The man it belonged to asked, “Are you alright?”

Either the man’s voice or Aerimon’s breathing had been too loud, for the man in the guard outfit turned his head and peered back. Aerimon caught a glimpse of a hairless face and immediately spun around to hide his identity. He grabbed the man’s shoulders and growled, “Don’t move at all.”

The man made to step backward but Aerimon held him fast. When he began to struggle, Aerimon pulled him close, wrapping him in a bear hug that crushed the wind from the man’s lungs. “Shut up and I will not hurt you. Just shut up!” he snarled.

Finally, the man seemed to relent, allowing Aerimon to maintain his tight grip. Eventually, Aerimon, released the man and peeked back over his own shoulder. The two men were only partially visible as they turned down an alley.

Without explanation, Aerimon turned and sprinted down the street but paused at the alley corner, then slowly stuck his head around it. He found a dead end and no one within. Baffled, he turned the corner and walked down the alley. He got to its end and found nothing. But then the stones gave him his answer.

A half-circle section of the stone floor was much less coated with dust and dirt. Aerimon went to the place and felt along the wall. Indeed, there was a seam the shape of a door. He pushed on it, but it did not move. He probed for a latch but found only smooth wall. He tapped his foot against the wall and a click sounded. A surge of excitement shot through him.

Aerimon placed the toe of his foot back on the place he had kicked and pushed. A loud click sounded and the piece of wall before him floated away from him. He placed his hand on the edge of it and pushed it open, unsure of what he would be walking into.

First, he saw a chair with latches and straps meant to restrain. Next, he caught motion to his right and spun towards it. Two blades leapt for him and he danced away from them, leaning to the side then ducking beneath another strike. As he cleared his blade from its sheath, his attacker took the time to shut the hidden door.

“You really want to be left in this small room alone with me after you just tried to drive a blade through my skull?” Aerimon asked, confidence overflowing from him.

“Yes. I do.” The man seemed even more confident than Aerimon felt. Then he remembered that he hadn’t seen Jayko yet, that the corners of this room, lit up by the torches, didn’t harbor him. He noticed a wall of crosshatched steel that split the room in two, but couldn’t discern much beyond it. He remembered that Jayko had singlehandedly killed three guards from behind bars just a few menes ago. “Jayko said that you’ll be my first sacrifice, that Saren will enjoy the suffering that happens here tonight more than any before it. I believe him.”

The man suddenly charged, feigning an overhand chop with one blade then slashing at Aerimon’s midsection. Aerimon interposed his own, longer blade and made a tight circle, driving his attacker’s blade up and outwards. He then slammed his shin into the inside of the man’s knee, causing him to stumble backward.

Aerimon’s attacker grunted then cried out, “Jayko, now. Do it, now!”

A voice from the darkness on the other side of the wall said, “Aerimon, it is a pleasure to meet you. There will be suffering in this room tonight. And Saren will be quite pleased. I do hope you are prepared for the pain that will come. In agony, you will find life.”

A rectangle of dim light appeared at the other side of the metal wall, silhouetting Jayko’s form. Jayko stood there for a moment, his features completely hidden. Then, the door shut, and nothingness replaced the weak light.

The remaining man seemed to lose all gusto as he backed away from Aerimon even further, his eyes shifting from where Jayko had been and to where Aerimon stood. “Jayko. Jayko!”

“He left you.”

“He wouldn’t do that. I am a hand of Saren.”

“Saren can rot in piss and shit. You are nothing. You’re evil. And in a mene, you’re going to be dead. I hope you’re afraid.”

Aerimon bolted forward, deflecting one strike and twisting away from another. His motions brought him right next to the man and he brought his hands up. He spun hard, pivoting on his left foot, and slammed the pommel of his blade into the man’s jaw. He fell to the floor, an unconscious heap.

The next menes passed quickly, and without thought. Aerimon had placed his blade on the floor then hauled his captive to the chair in the middle of the room. He strapped the sleeping man into the chair, then waited for him to wake. While waiting, he toyed with the idea of hurting him until he woke.

Before Aerimon could act, the man returned to consciousness. He grunted and blinked away grogginess then winced as his head must be throbbing.

“What’s your name?” Aerimon was still unsure what he would do to this man.

“Aban … It’s Aban. What are you going to do with me?”

He’d strapped Aban in this chair for a reason. He wanted information about Jayko. But how far would he go to get it?

“When I ask you questions, you need to answer them. And I won’t like waiting either.”

Aban seemed to come back fully. He lost the fear that had crept across his face when he had awoken in the chair. “Why? What would make me tell you anything?”

“I will kill you if you don’t tell me what I want. That is a promise.”

“And if I do talk you will let me live. Is that it? No. You’ll give me to Kalen and then he’ll probably give me to the Bonecrusher. You’re an idiot if you think I’ll tell you anything.”

Sadly, Aban was right. But perhaps he’d have to give in to hurting Aban for answers. Would that even work though?

“Jayko left you, Aban. Why prolong this? He doesn’t care at all about you. But you’d protect him even though it might end very, very badly for you?”

“So you do have some balls, then? What do you want to know?” Aban smiled. Aerimon was sure that he would play games. But this game wouldn’t be friendly for long.

“Where is he going to? Where will I find him?”

“I think he said something about joining the Town Guard. Yeah, he was going to go straight to the duke and ask to take Kalen’s spot. Something like that.”

Without thinking, Aerimon’s left fist lashed out. His knuckles collided with Aban’s jaw and snapped his head to the side. He looked shocked when his head turned back around but otherwise seemed fine. Aerimon’s heart slammed against his chest. He had never before hit a man who was incapable of defending himself. A sliver of remorse formed in his chest but then Aban spit blood in his face. Aerimon wiped it away and his remorse left with it.

“Where can I find Jayko?”

“Oh, that’s it. He is actually headed to the docks. Said something about buying a little dinghy and going fishing for a while. Lying in the sun and whatnot.”

“You don’t think I can make you talk, huh?”

“I think you are going to do what you think needs to be done to get me to talk. But I don’t think it’ll be enough. You don’t know how to do this right, Aerimon. Sure, you can kill and hurt, but what we do is so much more than that.”

Aerimon lifted his leg then drove his heel into Aban’s chest, blasting the air from him, the bolts fixing the chair to the ground groaning. He grabbed one of Aban’s fingers while he was still finding his wind and snapped it backward. Aban cried out and even wept for a brief moment. But then, he was laughing.

Fire coursed through Aerimon. Maybe he should just stop now, find Kalen and give Aban over. Let him work on the man. But would Kalen follow through to get the information? Could he even do it himself?

Anger dripped from Aerimon as he gripped Aban’s throat with iron fingers and growled, “What did you do?”

He relinquished the man’s neck and Aban ceased his laughing although his breath came fast now. “What? What did I do?”

“You are in Jayko’s cult; what did you do? Did you kill people? Torture them?”

“I’ve killed. I’ve watched the tortures several times. I’ve practiced. I know how to do it. But you, Aerimon. You were supposed to be my first.”

Something snapped in Aerimon. He thought of the people Aban had killed and thought of the justice they needed. He drove a knee into Aban’s shin then punched him in the gut as hard as he could. Aban yelped but then vomited down his chest. He caught his breath again in a great heave.

Aerimon stood before Aban, wanting to hurt him more. No longer would he even consider remorse. Anything that happened to Aban was just necessary.

“Start talking, dammit. Where is Jayko? How many of you are there? Why is he doing this?”

It took a mene for Aban to collect himself enough to respond. He had gagged one other time and his body had trembled at some point. He opened his eyes and looked at Aerimon then said, “Fark you.”

Aerimon growled then hit Aban with a back fist strike. He continued pummeling Aban as he said, “What is wrong with you? What does it take to get you to speak? You don’t think I can hurt you? You’ve no idea what I can do!”

He stopped, sweating, his shoulders rising and falling with his labored breathing. Aban’s head was hanging forward now, blood streaming from his busted lip and broken nose. Aerimon gripped Aban’s cheeks and leaned forward. “I hate you. I hate everything about the person you are. And all the others. You scum. You worthless shit. You hurt, and you take, and you kill for no reason. Nothing in this world should let you exist. Your mothers should have torn you from their bodies before you had a chance to draw breath.”

What allowed such filth to come about in the world? Shouldn’t something have decided that such evil wasn’t allowable? Had there never been a god with backbone enough to create such an edict? If Aerimon were a god, he’d banish all evil, casting them into a torturous place.

Aban winced and wheezed, but he also smiled at Aerimon. He mocked him.

Aerimon silently walked from the chair and to the corner of the room. He had previously seen a case there but now knew exactly what he’d find inside. Slowly, methodically, as if he had done so a million times, Aerimon brought the case before Aban and laid it down on the floor. He opened it and displayed an array of torture tools. He grabbed the pliers from the box.

Time seemed to suddenly stop. Aerimon weighed the significance of what he was going to do. It was easy for him to decide that Aban needed to die. But could he torture the man this way? Did Aban deserve all of that? Aerimon remembered thinking similar things when he killed the gangsters who had tried extorting him months ago. He had always been able to live with the actions, even with the death of Gerald.

But, his previous method hadn’t worked at all. He had certainly hurt Aban. But he hadn’t done anything torturous. He wasn’t a teacher or practitioner of torture. Aban needed to know that Aerimon could do horrific things to him before he allowed him to die. Fists and feet wouldn’t be enough for that. He’d have to teach himself to torture this very night.

Aerimon clamped the pliers down hard on one of Aban’s fingernails. Both of the men’s hands began to shake and tremble. Aban held his breath in anxiety. Aerimon held his until his vision began to blur, taking him from the moment, allowing him the proper state to finally do it. Then, he yanked and pulled the nail back and forth until it tore free with a wet sucking sound. Aerimon had been transported to a new realm. He didn’t feel much but he certainly had a goal and the screams of the man did nothing to deter him.

“And now, Aban? Am I so weak now? Do you not feel this pain?”

Aban was rocking in his chair, sobbing and hiccupping. He stared at his mutilated fingertip with mad eyes. Aerimon seemed to come back to himself then. He hadn’t thought much about what he was actually doing while he was doing it. He had given himself a task and just did it. Aban was now screaming incoherently but Aerimon paid it little mind.

“Where is Jayko, Aban?”

Through his sobs, Aban said, “I don’t know! I never knew! I was only playing with you!”

“That isn’t going to work now, Aban. We’ve gone too far. You’ve made me do something I never thought I would.”

Aerimon dropped the pliers and pulled several knives from the kit, each one a different thickness but all of them terribly sharp. He pressed the first one, with a thin blade, to Aban’s forearm. He kept pressing until a line of blood showed beneath the steel. His heart threatened to smash the bones in his chest to shards. He then pulled, dragging the blade beneath Aban’s skin. Blood welled thickly beneath the blade and spilled down it to cover Aerimon’s fingers. He held the track of loose skin down with one hand then continued to pull.

A long swath of skin slid along the rivers of blood flowing down Aban’s arm. Aerimon watched it until it slipped off and coiled on the ground. He dropped the knife, his entire arm shaking uncontrollably. But then, he reached out and wiped the blood from his hands on Aban’s shirt and looked down on his work. His breathing calmed. His vision sharpened at the sight of so much crimson. The life of evil was spilling to the floor right now, dying, becoming useless.

Aerimon transferred a thicker blade into his hand and found his target beneath the blood: muscle. He slid the blade between sinew with ease and began cutting in a sawing motion. His grip faltered on the blade and his finger suffered a small cut. Instinctively, he brought his finger to his mouth and closed his lips around the wound. The blood coating his hand, most of it Aban’s, swam between his teeth and sat on his tongue. He swallowed, then went back to his work.

Aban was uncontrollably jerking, barely able to make a coherent noise through his screams.

After a slab of muscle fell away from Aban’s arm to slap on the floor, revealing bone, Aerimon asked, “Do you want this to stop?”

“Yes! Please, gods, yes!” He then continued to sob and scream through his gibbering pleas.

“Did you ever touch their flesh, Aban? Did you eat them like Jayko did?” His words came in snarls. That was the part that had twisted Aerimon’s anger into such a churning maelstrom. It was unforgivable to kill another human without reason, to murder. But to devour their flesh afterward was something he couldn’t understand. His anger and want for revenge were all that made sense.

Aban did not respond for a moment as he rocked against the chair and his bonds, snot and spit flying from him. Aerimon grabbed a set of thick needles and stabbed one into Aban’s knee, a vibrating snap running through his arm as the thin metal pierced bone.

A horrible, inhuman roar came from Aban. Then he screamed, “They made me! I didn’t want to, but I had to. Kill me!”

Finally. He had broken this man who seemed so strong before. He had laughed at Aerimon at first, finding his inability to torture humorous. But then, Aban had driven Aerimon to a new place. Aban had forced him to become a torturer. Aerimon found that he still didn’t feel a bit of remorse. He was glad that Aban had been hurt so much; he deserved it and then some. This was Aerimon’s attack on all wickedness, his outlet for his pent up frustration and hatred of evil.

Aerimon stood from his crouch, his hands covered in Aban’s blood. The kit of torture lay open at his feet. He looked upon it, seeing more tools, a large glass vial that likely harbored some poison. He decided against it though. He grabbed another needle from the batch. “Gladly.”

As Aerimon brought his hand up, he saw the want for death in Aban’s eyes. He felt the man move as close to the needle as possible. He felt the power he held over Aban, the power that was needed to condemn these guiltless people to a terrible few moments. They had made their beds. Aerimon was only laying them down, adding to the deadly cot a few more lethal spikes.

The needle came down, plunged through flesh and skull, and lodged deep in brain matter. Aban ceased his tormented screams, paid for the depraved actions he had committed in life.

Aerimon looked down on the corpse, his hand still around the needle, Aban’s dead eyes still looking up at him. He felt not an ounce of remorse. This world was a better place now, regardless of how little by. Not a single redeeming factor would have made Aerimon feel the least bit of regret. If Aban had had a family, they were likely subject to terrible abuse from him often. Their lives would be better. Aban’s neighbors would no longer have to deal with a deceiver as Aban fed them lies and hid his murderous ways behind a facade.

“That was great, Aerimon. I knew you had it in you.”

Aerimon was shocked by the voice that came from the other side of the wall, within the darkness. He realized that it was Jayko, and that he had watched the entire torture. He had reveled in the spectacle of one man dismantling another.

“Jayko. You’ll better understand when you’re the one in my chair.”

“Oh, I know that, Aerimon. But Saren will be the bearer of all the gifts you provide him. All suffering is sweet to him, and ours will be most delicious.”

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