This one was brutal to write. I kept writing my way into plotholes, which was problematic, obviously. What is posted here is the first part of a small arc that is currently on it’s 25th rewrite. I am posting the 25th version because I have exhausted my ability to rewrite it again.
Thalorien was not looking forward to the rest of the day. He had no choice but to confront his wife, and who knows what would happen after that? It was impossible to say what had upset her to the point of nigh incomprehensible cursing; Shiari Bloodwrath swore about as much as a drunk sailor. Was she in on it? She had to be, it wasn’t possible to become pregnant by mistake. How long had she been with child? Thalorien hadn’t exactly seen her naked since conceiving Arkenheart, and she’d been wearing a great deal of loose fitting robes lately.
Perhaps a pregnancy was why? She had to be in on it. But then… what was ‘it’? What was the point? To usurp House Dawnseeker? Coup debaby?
Thalorien didn’t know what to think.
House Bloodwrath and House Dawnseeker had been feuding for over three thousand years, far too long in Thalorien’s opinion. It was his idea to try and defuse the situation. He had proposed an alliance between the two disparate Houses by marriage, a plan that everyone involved had readily agreed to. Thalorien and Shiari had gotten married with all due haste and quickly produced a child, officially heir of Dawnseeker by Bloodwrath. The alliance was cemented, the reputations and prestige of the two houses forged together, and all was well.
The alliance had worked, and quite well, for many years. Thalorien disagreed on nearly every point with the head of House Bloodwrath, one Solanar Bloodwrath, but it hadn’t mattered. With the two houses unified for all political purposes, any disagreement between the two caused no loss of reputation. In fact, because the two split on every issue, the two houses technically always “won”, as the king would eventually pick one side or the other, or compromise.
No matter what the king chose, both Dawnseeker and Bloodwrath profited, and the two houses quickly became the two most powerful in the entire nation, barring the royal house.
To think that all of that may have just been Bloodwrath trying to usurp Dawnseeker’s position, a plan likely decades in the effort…
It left a bitter taste in Thalorien’s mouth. Had he been played for a fool?
All of his worries proved to be pointless as soon as he arrived at his family’s private open air mansion. Something was lumped unceremoniously on the steps leading the front entrance.
It was a body.
He hissed, suddenly quite unsure what to do. “Close your eyes Arkie.”
Arkenheart, sitting perched on his left shoulder, had been unaware that anything was wrong. She started at the tone of his voice, but to his relief she didn’t question him. She squeezed her eyes shut, holding on to his neck for balance.
He approached the building quietly, then quickly inspected the corpse on the front steps. One of the butlers of the home, bearing an obvious sword wound to the stomach. He had bled out where he fell. They, whoever they were, didn’t have the time to make sure he was proper dead, just stabbed him and left him. Or hadn’t cared enough.
Once inside, he made Arkenheart hide in a linen closet near the entrance. He was torn between risking her being alone, or risking her seeing a pile of corpses. Hiding her was likely the best solution. Hopefully.
Thalorien was confronted with the same story inside the home. A butler here, a maid there, all seemingly killed where they stood. No signs of any organized defence at all. They had been taken entirely by surprise.
A trail of blood led to the upper floor, where he found the bodies of the entire kitchen staff, bound and bearing the scars of ruthless torture. They had all been executed, their throats cut.
Thalorien thought furiously. Was this a coup, of the more traditional cloak and dagger style? Had his staff been tortured for information, or just for the twisted pleasure of it? They had been killed up here, rather than in the kitchen. Maybe because someone had been forced to watch…
The door was open to the master bedroom.
The body of a woman lay in a pool of blood, beaten and broken.
Thalorien rushed to the corpse, quickly checking the identity of the dead elf. He breathed a sigh of relief, the corpse belonged to the master chef of the household. Not Shiari. A brief flash of guilt over that particular sense of gladness, but he quickly tamped it down. Time for moral self reprimanding later.
He took in the room. It had been searched, thoroughly and violently. The wardrobes and closets had been utterly destroyed, the furniture torn apart, the bedding shredded, even pieces of the floor ripped up. They had been looking for something. Or someone.
He rushed back down stairs as fast as he could, retrieving a very confused Arkenheart from her hiding place.
“Not now Arkie. We have to escape.”
“Escape from what?”
He held her protectively, cupped in his left arm, running at a dead sprint out of the house. “I don’t know.”
Solanar Bloodwrath perused his ample book collection, searching for that special little something. His collection was vast, stretching from the bawdiest and stupidest romance novels, to highly detailed histories of human wars, to deep philosophical discussions of ideas he barely understood. He needed to have a huge collection; he loved to read, but every day a new whim would take him.
He pulled one of the horrible bawdy romances from the wall. “Mistress Giggles Finds a Stranger in the Alps”. He allowed himself a small smile. Exquisite.
The door to his study was violently flung open. Solanar shoved the novel back into the shelf, briskly took two steps to the left, looking for all the world as if he was deeply engrossed in a selection on troll anatomy. From there, he turned nonchalantly to face his rude intruder.
Thalorien Dawnseeker stood there, pointing his sword at him. “You.”
“Me.” said Solanar blithely.
“Do you know anything?” bit out Thalorien. He was obviously severely put out by something.
“I know a great deal!” said Solanar, fetching the troll anatomy book from the shelf. He flipped to a random page and added, “For example, did you know that trolls have three toes on each foot, but do not possess a heel? The third toe is much shorter and stubbier than the other two, and serves the same purpose as a hee-”
“You know what I mean.”
Solanar gently closed the book. “I am afraid I do not, Thalorien, otherwise, would I be standing here making snide remarks?”
“Well, I suppose I can’t argue with that, b-”
“Shut up. Where is your sister right now?”
“Excuse me, did you just tell me to shu-”
“Shut up. Where is your sister right now?”
Solanar paused, considering the question. “Isn’t that question a bit silly? I assume she’d be at your estate, or one of the other Dawnseeker estates. I heard she was preparing to hold a party at-”
“And if I told you she was missing and everyone else at the estate had been killed in a brutal attack?”
Solanar stared at Thalorien, his expression one of sheer disbelief and surprise. Several seconds passed as he tried to work through the information he had been given. Solanar eventually settled on letting out a loud peal of laughter.
“Thalorien, what are you… that was so absolutely bizarre to hear, was that intended to be funny, or-”
“She’s also pregnant. I am not the father.”
More laughter, this one tinged with incredulity. “What the hell! What is wrong with you?! I don’t know what sort of prank you are trying… well just listen to yourself! ‘Everyone’s dead, your sister’s gone, oh also she’s preggers’! That sounds completely insane!”
Thalorien lowered his sword, but otherwise retained the grim expression and said nothing. The blood coating the blade was obvious enough.
“And… you’re serious. Well flaming bird shit on a gnome, you’re serious…” Solanar said, his smile vanishing, the colour draining from his face. “You’re actually… not… joking at all… what’s happened? Who’s… blood is that?”
“Ninety three dead, Solanar. Assassinations on a wide scale, targeting House Dawnseeker members. Servants, my cousins, my uncle, their entire families, butchered and left where they fell. Your sister, my wife, is missing. They, whoever they are, tried to wipe out the entire Dawnseeker bloodline. And this,” said Thalorien, gesturing with his sword, “is all that’s left of the assassins sent for me. And my daughter.”
“And you suspect Bloodwrath.” added Solanar, nodding.
“Yes. For what I hope are obvious reasons.”
“Very obvious.” Solanar said. “Too obvious. Could not I be getting set up here as the bad guy too? That’s not… Thalorien. Please, whatever you think of me personally, know this: I love my sister deeply. I… need to sit down.”
Solanar moved behind his desk, settling himself into his luxurious chair. Cradling his head in his hands, he mumbled. “This is insane. Insane, insane. How could you suspect me? Don’t you remember, I wanted this alliance as badly as you. And now it may have cost me my-”
A mage entered the room, quiet desperation about him. “Lord Dawnseeker, news.”
“They have your wife, lord. She’s in labour. And they’re threatening to kill both her and the newborn child, unless you give them exactly what they want. Uh, summarized, Lord Dawnseeker. The original message had, uh, significantly more colourful words.”
“Yes, whatever, who are they?”
“Don’t know, Lord Dawnseeker.”
A grunt of frustration from Thalorien. “Fine, what do they want?”
“Um, well… Lord Dawnseeker… they want you, Lord Dawnseeker. Your life for theirs. And, you, uh, can’t bring the sword.”
Thalorien narrowed his eyes slightly, a dangerous, predatory smile coming across his face. “A fair trade, I think. Life for a life. Wonderful idea. Very well, accept the terms and give me the details.”
The mage nodded, exiting the room. Thalorien turned back to Solanar, the latter with tears glistening in his eyes. “The burden is no longer on you, Solanar. For now.”
“Thalorien.” said Solanar.
“Rescue her, Thalorien… please. She’s… she’s my sister…”
Thalorien nodded, his face softening slightly. He left the room as swiftly as he had entered.
Solanar took a few minutes to calm himself down. A few steadying breaths, some silent meditation. He then stood up, walked across the room to the open door, closed it, locked it, and walked back to his desk. He sat, letting out a deep sigh.
Everything was going according to plan so far. He sincerely hoped he had not miscalculated. It had not been easy to ask this of his sister. Ah, well, no point in worrying. There would be time for regretting his moral choices later.