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The Deal

Iamennos - This article is part of a series.
Part 2: This Article

Iamennos knelt in the dirt outside the entrance of the prison, face turned skyward. Stars. Beautiful, countless stars set in a black, moonless sky. He trembled beneath that sky, naked and cold and covered in blood that was not his. Behind him tongues of flame lapped at the ceiling of the short earthen tunnel that lead to the entrance of the prison. There had been so much lamp oil in the store room he’d found…

In the distance the capitol city of the Black Isles sat nestled between a rocky ridge and the wide bay that made the nobility so rich. There hadn’t been any guards outside when he’d finally made it to the surface. They must have gone to get help from the city. As far as he knew there had never been any escape attempts from this prison, never mind a successful one; there was only one way in or out and each level was crawling with guards. The men out here probably heard the screaming and went running. Iamennos smiled at the thought, tasting the metallic tang that still stained his teeth.

He should get moving. Shakily, he got to his feet, stones of the dirt path digging into his soles. His body felt like an empty waterskin, the power that had propelled him up through the prison having left him. He would need to find clothes, some boots maybe, and something to -

Two pairs of gauntleted hands grabbed him, one around each rail-thin arm. He struggled against them, twisting in their grips. They held so tightly he though his arms would snap. He turned to look at his assailants and froze. Prison guards, judging by their tabards, but their heads were missing, thick blood still oozing from their necks. His legs gave out, the last of his strength leaving him.

The two undead soldiers dragged him between them towards the forest that covered the top of the hill the prison was cut into. The three of them stumbled through the undergrowth, the forest nearly pitch black in the meager starlight. After a few minutes of being poked, stabbed, and scraped by the debris on the forest floor, they came to a small clearing surrounding an impressive stump nearly 15 feet across. The soldiers walked him up to it and threw him down at its rim.

“Very good, child” Caythoanth rumbled from across the clearing. Not a projection of mist this time. The dragon lay on the other side of the clearing, massive skull set on the end of a long serpentine neck. Shreds of skin hung from its head and neck resembling hanging moss, the exposed sections of bone stark white against the darkness of the forest. The tattered remnants of what once might have been a proud sail ran then length of its neck, many of the spines broken. It watched him from gaping eye sockets, twin points of green light set deep within. “I believe this pact will be fruitful indeed.”

Iamennos hauled himself up to lean on the stump. His knees trembled and he had to focus on not passing out. When had he become so exhausted? He forced himself to meet the dracolich’s gaze. “I’ve already agreed to your pact, haven’t I? Why drag me out here?” he said. It occurred to him that he was interrogating an undead dragon with claws the size of his entire body, but Caythoanth simply stared at him.

“I prefer to have these things in writing” it said flatly. Ah, he thought, paperwork. Of course. Caythoanth reached out a claw, dragging it across the surface of the stump and leaving a trail of mist. “As you noted, you have already agreed to the terms. This is merely formality.” The mist cleared to reveal a large sheet of yellowed parchment that looked as old as the dragon itself. The ink on the page swam and swirled, moving in ways Iamennos was almost certain ink wasn’t supposed to.

Caythoanth tapped a claw on the stump, annoyed. “Ah” it said after a moment, “you’re illiterate.” It reached out and tapped the parchment once, and the ink snapped into somewhat crude drawings depicting the terms of the contract: Grow powerful and deepen the bond of the pact. Acquire artifacts to aid you in your work. Be prepared to answer when called upon. In exchange, receive power and knowledge as old as the stone itself.

Iamennos looked over the parchment. It seemed so simple. Too simple. He met the dragon’s hollow stare. “This can’t be all there is, what’s the catch?”

Caythoanth scoffed. “You will find, boy, that I am a simple creature. I prefer the straight forward approach.” The two headless soldiers grabbed him, their clammy hands firm as steel. He yelped, having forgotten them. He struggled against them as they wrenched his arms around, holding his right hand open over the contract. “The power I gave you tonight was a taste of what you will achieve as you prove yourself useful to me” Caythoanth said. The soldier on his right unsheathed a dagger. “You shall leave this place and make your way to the continent. Learn to fight, learn to wield my magic, and maybe learn to fucking read while you’re at it.”

The soldier sliced his open palm, splattering blood onto the parchment. Iamennos’ eyes went wide as he felt the pact bind itself to him, creeping vines tightening around his very soul. The parchment disappeared in a puff of mist and the two soldiers crumpled to the ground, dead for the second time tonight. He pressed his good hand into his palm but realized that the wound was gone, leaving only his blood, black in the darkness of the night. He looked up to find that Caythoanth too had disappeared, leaving him alone in the clearing.

“A gift for you, to commemorate the forging of our pact” Caythoanth’s voice said in his mind. A small crystal ball had appeared where the contract had been. It glowed faintly with an uneven light, pale green mist swirling and shimmering within it. Iamennos picked it up. It was warm to the touch and seemed to hum in his hand. An arcane focus. His arcane focus. He smiled.