Devil

Salmakia

Explorer
The next time I was called it was from within a temple, with wards placed all around and a cadre of paladins prepared to restrain me, presumably while some uncomfortable compulsion was cast upon me. I suppose the cleric had spoken about me with his priestly superiors and they had decided to put an end to my scheming once and for all.

I must say I was a little insulted. Not that they’d try something like that, of course, but that they thought I’d actually walk into it. I sent an imp in my place, and watched their confusion in my mirror when I failed to appear.

The orc cleric held up the totem the abishai had given them. The one they'd assumed was somehow linked to me. “You are not the fiend we intended to summon.”

My imp spoke pompously. Inferior creatures do always seem to insist upon grand gestures. “My esteemed master regrets that you have made summoning impossible at this time.”

“What?” scowled the orc.

My imp coughed imperiously. “My master does not willfully walk into traps. If you wish an audience, you must seek it alone.”

The other priests and paladins said some droll things about how that could no longer be allowed and made a lot of analogies to the sun and to mountains and, for some reason, to archways. But what it came down to was that my imp negotiated a meeting between myself and the orc plus only the high priest on neutral ground (no sneaky hallowing or magic circles).

I blew some fire into my hands and rubbed them together eagerly. The elder priest meant serious business, and I hadn’t been properly challenged in far too long.

Passing through layers of defense that had enough power to shred a pit fiend (and believe me they’ve been tested), I entered the deepest level of my personal vault. One of the fringe benefits of living in Hell for a long time is that the Plane begins to shape itself around one’s nature. Some fiends find their chambers adorned with skulls or fashioned entirely out of blood or floating above a lake of molten lava.

My vault is an exact replica of the filing room where I labored away my youth as a clerk to our town’s judge. Drawers upon drawers, stacked from floor to ceiling, with garish magical illuminators casting an unapologetically blinding glare into every cranny. The whole place reeks of vinegar and lemons.

They do call it Hell, after all.

Pulling open one of the drawers I beheld a motley collection of metal bidents, each carved with runes. I probably have two score, collected over the years as payment for deals or crafted for me by mortal enthusiasts in a feeble attempt at garnering my goodwill. Unfortunately, those mortals failed to realize that, even with a properly keyed tuning fork, I am still unable to leave this Plane unless summoned. I killed them for their stupidity, but I kept their gifts.

Now, digging through my stock, I pulled out the one I planned on using in my visit to the cleric and his high priest. I had half a dozen of this particular variety of tuning fork. For some reason many mortals seem deluded into believing that any fiend would desire to go there.

Locating my two targets in my mirror, I adopted hamatula form and awaited their summons. Without their retinue of holy justiciars, they were forced to rely upon Holam to cast the summoning, and his call was familiar to me by now.

I stepped through the portal in an exquisite inferno of agony.

I looked straight at the high priest and gave a deep bow. “Forgive me, your grace, for I have sinned.” Then I gave her a toothy smile.

My orc cleric friend began to speak, but the high priest interjected first. “We have summoned you to demand that you cease your designs upon these mortals at once.”

“Why certainly,” I nodded. “Demand away. But if you want me to be agreeable it’s far politer to ask. And if you’re making a request, there will be a price.”

“No price,” retorted the high priest. “I am warning you by the power of the Impenetrable Mountain that if you persist in your machinations there will be consequences.”

“The Impenetrable Mountain… cheery place. Ever considered visiting yourself?” I dangled the tuning fork between two of my barbed fingers. “I won’t deny that the gods who dwell there have power, but would they really spare the effort to censor me?”

I saw the orc twitch uncomfortably, and knew he was thinking back to my interrogation at the massacre we’d witnessed.

But the high priest seemed unimpressed. “To curtail a fiend as powerful as you? I think they’d be very interested indeed.”

“You’re offering to give us that tuning fork.” The orc’s voice was brittle, as if he’d been crying. Or screaming. “What’s the price?”

I placed the item in question on the ground within the circle containing me. “You misunderstand. This tuning fork is the price. Pay your gods a visit and try to find an answer to the question I last asked of you. The gift is here.” And I placed a small gemstone beside the planar key. “This stone will summon me upon being broken.”

“We will not accept any gifts from you, fiend,” spat the high priest. She understood how to deal with a devil. Or, rather, how to avoid dealing with a devil. She would have been no use to me at all.

I kept my eyes fixed on the orc, whose gaze, in turn, was locked onto the two items at my feet. “Why would I ever desire to summon you?” he asked.

I shrugged. “You desired it today, didn’t you?”

The high priest, meanwhile, had begun an incantation. I think it was an attempt to Commune with her gods. I have it on good authority that they weren’t listening.

The orc continued. “I don’t want your gifts.”

“And yet you’ll take them anyways,” I asserted confidently. “Your high priest will forbid it, but you’ll have Holam Plane Shift you to your Impenetrable Mountain because, deep down, you really do want to know. Don’t worry. I once had the same desire. Not so different, you and me.”

BEGONE!” thundered the cleric.

I think he uttered a Divine Word, though I couldn’t have told you what it was. He must have been really quite cross with me. Regardless, it hardly phased me. I’ve heard far more terrible pronouncements in my time.

“If you wish me to begone,” I said, “Holam will need to dismiss me. Oh, and speaking of, I almost forgot.” I withdrew a scroll and placed it beside my other two gifts. “A little something for your troubles, Holam.”

As I catapulted back into Hell I chuckled at the strife that particular spell would cause.
 

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Salmakia

Explorer
INSIGHT
6th-level divination
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Up to 1 hour
You tap into the force of life itself to increase your own insight. When this spell is cast, your hitpoint maximum is reduced by 3d6 and either your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score increases by 1 point for the duration. While the spell persists, you can spend one minute to repeat this process. This spell can increase your ability score above 20. When the spell ends, your hitpoint maximum returns to its normal state, but your current hitpoints remain at whatever level they were when the spell ended.
Alternatively, you can tap into the lifeforce of an incapacitated creature within 5 feet of you. When you do so, however, that creature’s hitpoint maximum is reduced until it takes a long rest.
 

Salmakia

Explorer
Events in the mortal realm exploded with such unexpected fury that the cleric neither had time to utilize my gift nor redeem my fee. It seemed the despotic warlord whose secrets they had raided was bent on conquering nearby territories, some of which included cities that the four companions deemed important. As it turned out, this warlord had also orchestrated the theft of the elf queen’s sword that I had helped them retrieve from the acid pool. Something about destabilizing the elvish aristocracy.

I’ve always found the coincidences surrounding mortal affairs quite fascinating. There are no coincidences in Hell.

I could have told them that tyrannical empires come and go with more regularity than the tides, but experience has taught me that mortals, by their very nature of not being immortal, lack something of yours and my perspective.

Thus began a campaign that took the better part of a year. The companions, due to their raw power and the political influence they’d garnered, took a chief part in many battles. It’s amazing the effects a single Fire Storm can have on the outcome of a skirmish. Holam relished the destruction he could inflict with the Hell’s Fury spell I had taught him. In my rare moments of reprieve when I wasn’t casting my divinations in service of our legions fighting the Blood War, I immensely enjoyed watching him scream at Saribel or Rakt’re that he needed to kill that giant so as to heal himself.

He also repeatedly drained their prisoners’ life force to fuel the Insight invocation I’d given him, until the orc cleric forbid him from ever using the spell again. He continued to do it anyways, of course, just more secretively. Truly he was born for Hell.

As for the two non-magical warriors, the hammer I had given Rakt’re helped her abandon whatever inhibitions she’d had on the battlefield, while Saribel’s recent estrangement from her parents translated into a fury that was beautiful to behold.

The orc himself seemed bound and determined to reject any advantage stemming directly from me, but I did catch him several times late at night when he thought no one was watching holding the tuning fork and mumbling under his breath. At first I thought he was cursing me, but eventually I realized the truth: He was praying.

The mortal war ended as most wars do, in great loss and very little change. Standing over the headless body of the enemy warlord, soaked in the blood of hundreds who had been pressed into military service and perhaps half a dozen who had actually committed atrocities, the cleric turned to Holam and inquire whether the wizard had enough magical energy remaining to punch through the barriers bounding the Material Plane.

In my mirror, I watched him pull out the tuning fork, and, a few moments later, the two of them vanished.

I do not know what occurred on the slopes of the Impenetrable Mountain. If the gods are good for one thing, it is keeping prying eyes out of their realms. Long ago, back in my mortal days, I surmised that the gods had sealed off the gates to all the heavens. I believed the situation in my world had spiraled so far out of control, with rifts to Limbo and Hell and worse places beyond comprehension, that they had given up any hope of salvation and had instead chosen extreme isolation.

But what am I saying? Of course you'd know all about that already.

What I do know is that, only a few mortal hours after Holam transited to the Impenetrable Mountain, the gemstone I had given the cleric was broken and I was pulled once more through astral nothingness and into corporeal form.

The first sensation that overcame me as I arrived was a profound freedom. There was no protective diagram containing me! I flexed the immense power at my command, thinking of the sweeping transformations I could wreak with a single thought.

Then I allowed that swell of ecstasy to subside.

The cleric sat on a rock before me, looking glum. The sun had set on this Plane, and I suppose the air was chilly although my hamatula form barely registered such a minor degree of cold. I instantly recognized that the cleric had some item shielding us from magical detection. I wasn’t absolutely certain who he was trying to hide from, but I did have a suspicion.

Tapping into my upper reservoir once more, I quickly and silently punched through the item’s wards and established a sensor in the air five paces away. I linked the other end to Holam and sent the wizard a message: Watch.

Indeed, Holam could only watch, for I made quite certain that the sensor would transmit only sight and no sound. In the dim light he certainly wouldn’t be able to recognize enough of the surroundings to Teleport to our location, and his measly divinations would be no match for the cleric’s warded item.

I couldn’t have set the scene better had I a month to prepare.

“You called?” I asked.

The cleric didn’t meet my gaze. “I have some questions, to which I would like honest answers. What is your price?”

“That depends entirely upon the nature and number of the questions,” I responded.

“Five questions,” he mumbled. “I think you already know their nature.”

I wondered whether he had been drinking or crying. “If you cannot tell me the nature of the questions in advance then I cannot guarantee my ability or willingness to answer them. But my price is this: I ask you one question for every answer I give. As I am answering your questions honestly, so must you answer mine.”

“Fine,” he agreed. “I hardly see how more questions could hurt me now.”

I love to see a mortal, who was once resistant to even speaking with me, reduced to unthinking agreement with my terms. Never fear. I’ll make him pay for his carelessness.

“You’re not really a hamatula, are you?” he asked.

I must admit that one caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting him to burn a question like that. Score: 1 for the cleric I suppose. “No,” I replied. “I am not a hamatula. And I won’t have you waste a question by asking who I really am, because I won’t tell you. What would you like to know next?”

“Have Holam, Saribel, or Rakt’re already condemned themselves to an eternity in Hell?”

“I could count that as three questions,” I mused, “but since I’m feeling generous and since all three questions have a single answer I’ll give it to you as one. The answer is no, on all counts.” Of course, the cleric’s lack of understanding regarding how eternity really works made my answer somewhat misleading. But it was honest, nonetheless. And a point for the devil brings the score to a tie. “Question three?”

“What’s it like fighting in the Bood War?”

“Worse torment than you could possibly imagine.” Not the answer he was looking for, but again nothing but the truth. The devil takes the lead.

The cleric took almost a full minute before he spoke again, and I knew he was choosing his words carefully. Only two questions remaining, after all. “How does the effort that you personally put into the Blood War tip the balance of the demonic threat?”

An excellent question, and one that I couldn’t easily evade with a short, misleading answer. The cleric brings the score back to even. “I’m a diviner, primarily,” I began. “I use my auguries and my scrying in service of my Duke, who has many legions of devils on multiple fronts of the War. Through my explicit contributions I have prevented 157 demonic incursions. Of those, 5 had the potential to seriously tip the balance of the wider demonic threat.”

By the strictest interpretation of our agreement he could have pressed me to say more, but I was hoping that I had given him enough to satisfy his curiosity. “Final question?” I asked.

“Why did you chose me?” he asked meekly.

There it was. The one question that I really didn’t want to answer. And the cleric takes the round with a final score of 3-2. “Your companions think of themselves as neutrally aligned,” I began. “They are disinclined toward truly evil acts, but they prefer to engage in activities that benefit themselves. You, however, think of yourself as Good with a capital G. We get more points for tempting Good mortals.”

The cleric shook his head. “That’s not enough. If that were all then you would have tried to tempt the high priest, but you barely gave her a second glance. Why me?”

Honesty; what a fickle blade. I admit I didn’t much like the feel once it was turned against my own answers. I decided to take a gamble. I would tell him the absolute truth, and, if I was right about his nature, it wouldn’t matter half a dretch in the end. If I had anything to pray to, I would have prayed with all my might that I had read him correctly.

“You are right,” I admitted. “There is more. You are righteous. Not like all the purportedly Good mortals who claim righteousness to disguise their selfishness. I watched you, and saw that you genuinely care about truth and justice and all those lofty ideals, above even your own wellbeing. And I surmised you might not be content with your gods’ idle passivity in the face of the horrors facing this world, and all worlds beyond. But deeper even than all that was a simple gut feeling on my part: You remind me of who I once was.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I wasn’t sure whether you’d be willing to answer that one.”

“Neither was I,” I conceded.

“You’ve put my mind greatly at ease,” he continued, “for now I know what I must do to resist your evil. You may ask me your five questions, and I will be truthful, for I know I have nothing to fear from you.”

I gave him my best wicked grin. “Oh no,” I purred. “I don’t think so. You owe me five truths, but at present there’s actually nothing I wish to ask you. I think I’ll save those questions for later on down the line.”

The cleric sputtered. “But— but that never—”

Laughing, I patted him gently on the shoulder. “Just because I asked you my questions immediately in all our previous deals, what makes you think I am bound to do so now? Be very careful when dealing with devils. Or did they not warn you about that on your visit to the Impenetrable Mountain?”

I reveled in his fury. But I wasn’t done yet. “I’ll be going now,” I remarked. “That stone you broke to summon me allows me to stay on this Plane for up to an hour. By my count I still have 46 minutes remaining, and there’s ever so much to do. A shame you didn’t have Holam inscribe a diagram to contain me.

Pulsing with righteous radiance, he leapt up from his seat and rushed at me, but before he had taken two paces I made an arcane gesture and was gone.

And round two goes to the devil, in a landslide victory.
 

Salmakia

Explorer
It didn’t take long for Holam to start summoning me. I knew him well enough to recognize that watching me speak with the cleric via the scrying sensor I’d established would prove nearly irresistible. Maybe it was jealousy. Maybe curiosity. Or maybe it was the simple realization that the cleric could no longer hold any moral high ground. Whatever the reason, Holam drank me up like fine dwarvish ale.

At first he just wanted to learn spells, and these I imparted easily in exchange for a few minor tasks. Slipping a copy of The Demonicon into a corner of the mage academy. Intercepting a letter intended for a priest. Scribing a permanent Teleportation Circle in an abandoned warehouse. I think the minuteness of the activities allowed Holam to convince himself that no harm was coming from them.

And besides, the payoffs were huge. Under my tutelage he learned which extraplanar beings would be most advantageous to target with a Gate and what forms of payment they might accept. I opened my library to him, through which he learned common spells such as Mind Blank, Telepathy, and Imprisonment in addition to some that have fallen from mortal memory: Inmortu Domini, Lifeward, and Everlasting Fealty.

He learned the Wish spell that mortals are so enamored with, and finally came to understand its gross limitations. When dealing with devils you at least know that your adversary, while undoubtedly fickle and malicious, has a clear agenda that they are pursuing. I cannot say the same for the raw magic that these Wishes attempt to harness.

When Saribel and Rakt’re noticed Holam’s sudden increase in magical prowess, they wasted no time hopping on my wagon too. I taught them secrets of combat that our tacticians had developed for the Blood War. I gave them items from my extensive collection, knowing well that any such “gifts” were really only temporary loans. In exchange it was more small tasks that, individually, could be written off one’s conscious as harmless trifles.

The cleric must have known what we were doing. The other three tried to keep it a secret, but it couldn’t have been that hard to decipher the truth for a zealot such as him. Why didn't he try to stop us? Perhaps he was lost in his own ethical maze.

After only several months my three students became bored with the limitations of what I had taught them. And so we began a journey into the profane.

Pain is a powerful tool for unlocking potential. There are rituals involving one’s own pain and rituals that require the pain of others. There are rituals reliant upon physical pain, mental pain, emotional pain, and moral pain. Some rituals need only the prick of a finger, while others bring the participants to the brink of glorious extinction.

I taught them all of these, and more.

Undoubtedly they used their newfound power for Good. They fought back hordes of demons like the ones in the massacre I had shown them. They rooted out undead horrors. They prevented a would-be god of plagues from ascending.

Through it all they sought more and more power, and eventually became entirely indiscriminate in how they obtained it.

But surely, you ask, such power comes with a very steep price?

Ahhh, but see, the power exacts its own price. For my own fee, I asked only that they keep perfect records of each ritual they performed. I instructed them to keep the records secret.

And then I sat back and waited.

It took the orc cleric longer than I had expected to find the documentation of the rituals. I can only imagine this was because deep down he didn’t want to find them, but in the end it became too obvious to ignore. He couldn’t penetrate Holam’s magical wards, but Saribel and Rakt’re had hidden their manuscripts in mundane ways and the cleric was more than equal to that task.

I was watching him in my mirror when he read through the list of atrocities his companions had perpetrated, some in the name of his own temple. I almost shed a tear. It is always sad to witness the obliteration of hope.

I knew that timing was key now. A few seconds too early or too late could ruin all my machinations of the past three years.

I contacted Holam (months before I had given him a device that allowed us to communicate across Planar barriers). While he was summoning me, I called one of my servants, established a telepathic bond between us, and instructed them to watch the orc cleric carefully in my mirror and provide continual updates.

Pulling myself across the rift, I announced proudly to Holam that I had a new ritual to impart. He practically drooled with excitement.

[the cleric has located you] my servant murmured [He has summoned a celestial and he is seven minutes away]

“We will want Saribel and Rakt’re for this,” I said. “Would you ask if they’d be willing to join?”

Holam issued a sending, and in short order I had teleported them to our location. Now I had only to set a proper scene.

[five minutes]

“This will require two others,” I said. Others was our euphemistic way of saying the innocent people we would be mutilating for our own personal gain.

“Not a problem,” said Holam. He teleported himself and his companions away, presumably to abduct some vagrants off the streets.

While they were gone, I wandered about the room drawing symbols across the walls. They were utterly meaningless, but looked suitably impressive. Holam had long since done away with containing me inside a protective diagram, and I had free rein over his chambers.

[three minutes]

They returned with two unconscious individuals. A dwarf and a human. I began instructing my students in all manner of particulars. I had to stall for three minutes, after all. But I made certain that none of my instructions would cause our others any pain. Unlike in our previous rituals, these others would be released unharmed.

[one minute]

“Perfect!” I proclaimed. The others had been bound and hung upside down from the ceiling. Pools of water were placed beneath each of them, and my students had dyed their hands green. I know of no ritual with such ridiculous requirements, but they would have believed whatever I told them by this point.

“Now,” I continued, “this ritual will require the four of us to enter a telepathic trance state together.”

They seemed unperturbed by the thought of being catatonic with a devil in the room. Truly some people deserve what’s coming to them.

I began chanting.

[30 seconds]

“Shouldn’t we seal the door or something?” asked Holam.

[15 seconds]

Curses. With a thought I closed and locked the door. “Done,” I said, and smiled as I felt Holam’s mind slip back into the easy trance state that I required.

[5 seconds]

I wreathed the four of us in harmless flames and steeled myself for what was to come.

The cleric broke down the door. Behind him was an angel of the highest order. I shielded my eyes against its brilliance and felt a tremor of awe pass through me.

The angel’s sword hewed into Holam. His mind struggled to break free of the trance, but I fought the pain and tightened down for the few seconds that were needed. The angel’s sword struck again and Holam’s head flew from his body.

The cleric smote everything in the room with a Sunburst. I had warded myself against just such an attack, and felt only a minor sear of pain. Saribel’s and Rakt’re’s flesh charred in the holy glow. Again, I fought with every bit of my strength to keep them incapacitated.

Have you ever entwined your mind with one that is burning and fighting you with all the force of a cornered dragon?

The angel’s sword struck twice more and two more heads fell to the ground.

The cleric attempted to harm me, and I admit that I felt some pain from that one.

The angel turned its gaze toward me, but with a gesture I banished it back to its Impenetrable Mountain. It didn’t even resist. I grieved a hundred lifetimes when it was gone.

I thought for a moment that the cleric was going to seriously try and fight me, but then he groaned and lowered his mace.

“I suppose you’ll just obliterate me if I try and strike you,” he said.

I gave a tight-lipped smile. “I’d spare a moment for immense disappointment first, if that helps.”

“Am I damned?” he asked, looking around at the bodies of his companions littering the floor. “I could resurrect them all easily enough…”

“No,” I replied. “You’re not damned. And I don’t know that they’d be so willingly pulled back into such limited forms.”

“What will happen to them?”

“They will have a choice,” I said. “They may enter the afterlife of their professed deity. Or they may come with me.”

“They’ll choose you,” sighed the cleric.

“Probably,” I admitted. “The kind of power they grasped under my tutelage is not often willingly surrendered.”

“Is that what happened to you?” he asked. “Is that how you ended up in Hell?”

“Hardly,” I scoffed. “I am not one so easily tempted. No, I chose my path because I saw a rare chance to actually do some good.”

“That’s unsettling coming from a devil.”

I stroked the barbed head of my hamatula form. “Once you grasp everything that’s at stake in this cosmos, and once you fully understand that the ends must always justify any means necessary, it actually becomes a startlingly simple choice. It was for me, at least.”

I watched him grapple with something internally, and I averted my eyes to give him privacy. I knew first-hand the agony he was experiencing.

I wished I could have told him it would get easier. But devils do not lie.

“You’re right,” he admitted.

I knew it was one of the hardest things he’d ever said.

He continued. “It is an easy choice." He looked me in the eye. "I will never go with you. I must believe that there is a better way.”

“So be it." I bowed my head in defeat. "It’s a pity though. You would have done us so much good. I remain on this Plane for several more minutes, and if you don’t mind I must take my leave, as opportunities like this are few for those such as myself and there are many demons to slaughter.”

I raised my hand to make the gesture that would transport me away from the cleric, but he caught my wrist.

“I had to be sure,” he murmured. “Of your sincerity. Your persistence with me is not just idle temptation?”

I shook my head.

"No," he mused. "I suppose if your goal was really just to take my soul, you would have pushed harder. You genuinely want me as a willing ally."

I said nothing, resisting the temptation even to grin.

“I’ll do it then,” he announced. “I’ll come with you. I have prayed and studied and travelled and witnessed these past months, and the only conclusion I can draw is that the gods have abandoned us. I must do what I can to combat the threats to my home. And if that means sacrificing my soul then so be it. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner, when I could have saved those hundreds in the massacre we witnessed.”

“You wish to join me?” I asked.

“No,” he spat. “But I will do it.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “It will be painful.”

He smiled grimly. “I gave you my answer when you asked me your very first question three years ago. Remember? You asked me if enduring personal suffering was a justifiable cost when fighting egregious evil. My answer has not changed.”

I nodded. “Very good. There is much you will not understand at first. Infernal politics are, shall we say, a necessary evil. Just remember this: If you find yourself in the employment of one of my rivals, you still owe me five honest answers from the last time you summoned me.”

“Let’s get one thing clear,” the cleric snarled. “I don’t like you one bit.”

I laughed. “Oh you’ll fit right in.”

“Is that it then?” he asked. “I promise you my soul, just like that?”

“Not quite,” I admitted. And, with a gesture, I annihilated him. I would see him again soon, I was sure. Rarely have I found a mortal so similar to a devil in sincerity.

In my last few seconds on this Plane, I pace idly around the chamber, savoring the sensation of feeling once again. It’s different when you’re in material form, and I doubt I’ll be back for a long, long time.

I reminisce on my strategy, so perfectly executed down to the minutest detail. The moment he caught me by the wrist to stop me from teleporting away? Priceless. You know I don’t need to move my hands to teleport – I can do it with a thought. I’d spent a long while practicing that gesture, in preparation for just such a moment.

And then there are all the plans I’d made that never saw the light of the mortal sun. Preparations for eventualities that hadn’t come to pass. Mortals think they’re so clever when they “outsmart” us, forgetting that we’ve had centuries or more to hone our craft.

Shedding the hamatula form, I stare up at the sky, to the Impenetrable Mountain, to where I know you are watching, and let loose my most fearsome roar.

I breathe heavily through my nostrils, fighting to regain control over my temper. Righteous fury has never done me any good.

My duke will be happy with my work, so that’s something. I’ll probably get several dozen new castles added to my domain for such a victory.

But the war.

The thrice-cursed, never-ending, god-forsaken war.
 

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