The Herald strode into the temple chamber deep beneath the manor but made no motion of obeisance toward the goddess’s altar. He was beholden to a master but… never again. Anakar, however, knelt at the door and shuffled all the way forward on his knees to light a candle. He concealed its light with his cupped hands as he offered his prayers then snuffed it with a clenched fist and rose to face his servant. “You return with word?”
“Do I ever return with failure?” Disdain echoed within his helm.
Anakar refrained from exerting his control over The Herald. Some minions were best left to their own minds and devices. Those minds were their value. As for the mindless… the seething shadows that swirled about the temple so eager for intruders to devour served their function unclouded by anything as troubling as their own thoughts. Anakar’s silent pause still delivered its message.
The Herald continued. “Not one but two disciples of Sep. They stand ready to do your bidding. And cunning enough to engage the support of their allies. One is Urdujani and has the smell of dragon blood on his soul.”
Anakar was always pleased by The Herald’s ability to go beyond the word of his orders. Yes, his mind was certainly of value. “Please, continue.”
“He is listed in the records of the Divine Eyes.” Anakar knew better than to ask how The Herald had come into such knowledge. “A seeker of wealth and the tools to obtain them, he believes even Sep’s blessings are but tools for him to use.”
Anakar made a scoffing sound and revealed his teeth in the gloom. “What of the other, the one you were sent to seek?”
“An ideal instrument. His zeal is not unlike my own was. The irony does not escape me. I wonder sometimes if your mistress’s plans deliberately hold torments and reminders for me out of simple cruelty.” The Herald cast his gaze toward the altar for a brief moment. “No matter. He is perfectly placed among his companions.”
“And do you believe Sep has united them for the promised purpose?”
“The third bears the map, if that is your question.”
Anakar’s grip drew so tight that a flitting shadow snapped audibly in his grasp. “The map?”
“Is there any other?” The Herald clearly knew his master’s mind when it came to his moments of disrespect. He hurriedly continued on just the same. “The trio has amassed a band of unusually suitable companions. Slayers and damned all.”
“Despite your tone you could not have carried better news than this.”
Before Anakar could begin to ponder the possibilities, The Herald spoke once again. “You forget why I am your herald, Anakar the Forgotten, Chosen of Sep.”
“Should there be more, I will allow you to indulge yourself in whatever ways you choose, Herald.”
“I have already chosen. And you will know my mind before I finish what I have to tell you and make my request.”
Anakar could feel the shades throughout the room begin to swirl, then dance and caper about the altar. The gloom reached down to his shoulders and touched them as if the idol of Sep sought to please him.
“Raids north of Drear have raised talk of war in the Spires and forces will soon be marshaled to meet the threat. And spies from the East”—Anakar noted The Herald would not even speak the nation’s name—“will surely note this as signs of an army of sorcery come to despoil their precious land. Word that the fell Cearithalax stirs will help those fools seal their pact with the Gleaming Dragons and soon—”
“And soon dragons will fill the skies for me to slake my thirst for retribution.” Anakar’s voice was a whisper of wonder. After so long, after so many deeds, it was true: Sep’s promise to him would be fulfilled. But his dreams suddenly trembled on shaky foundations. “Cearithalax would not ally with Shunnlel. Or any human at all. Why would the Midnight Dragon even awaken?”
“Perhaps a swamp cultist came into possession of an item of fell power. And perhaps those spies, so eager to believe they are chosen to receive visions from their whore-goddess, were led to believe Cearithalax rises to defend Shunnlel and not against her.” The insinuations of his vile deeds began to stoke the Herald’s voice to a horrifying tone of relish. “Perhaps a Divine Eye who sees beyond the veil her goddess has imposed on her, one who is worthy of my… affections, spoke a false vision to one of the Gleaming Dragons… a ‘prophecy’ of an end to dragon-kind heralded by the rise of Cearithalax.”
“And you would not lead her to speak falsely would you,” murmured Anakar, still shaken by the depth of his minion’s cunning. “Honorable to the end.”
“Honorable beyond the end,” The Herald coldly corrected.
“A war?” Anakar trembled with anticipation. “You have engineered a war simply for me to seek my vengeance?”
“No. I have engineered a war to seek my own vengeance. Your reward, promised by your mistress, is a convenient side effect.” The steady tone of The Herald’s voice rose to a pitch of anger with the words.
“You have done exceedingly well, as always. You were wise to remind me you have never returned with failure. As I promised you are free to indulge yourself and, as you said, that desire has already been made clear.”
“Yes. I will wade a river of blood to reach the top of the Holy Hill overlooking Gahlsen. I will defile every Divine Eye myself in the Pools of Purity. And I will behead every priest upon Her altar until the blessed white marble statue of the Martyr Magora weeps warm tears upon my armor. Only then will I finally succumb to the Gray Specter and its eternal judgment of my deeds.”