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Paragon Ruin Chapter 1


A sharp intake of breath, like a lightning bolt of shock, slices my chest open with a knife of reckoning.

Both knees hit the floor next.

A keening fills the black chamber, disconnecting from the human, and becomes a living echo, a tangible shadow, a metallic taint. The metallic taint sprinkles the floor beneath my face where I hunch over, gasping, trying to breathe through the thickened shadow that has become the rest of my life.

I hate this.

Regret, so physical , disconnects from me, too, becoming its own flesh-and-blood human; blind and thirsty.

I hate this.

My awareness splits. I become conscious of different points and levels of the chamber as if I occupy them all: near the ceiling, another pushing deeper into the corner at the floor, another buzzing above my ear. The buzzing becomes an actual voice, shouting at me as if I’d sunk six feet into a grave.

“If you’re going to die, kindred, a least die for something worth more than pain.”

Undergod take the Dreamer. I don’t know how to move my body.

Mother and Markie won’t accept a defiled son, half a man, disfigured kin, a sheared soul. I don’t want to be a bladehand. I left Markie, a real father, and became this, became this to rescue the man who left home, wife, and son, who framed me for a crime Torc Thoraus sentenced me to die for.

The Dreamer did that to him. The Dreamer did this to me.

I’ll kill the Dreamer. Damn the man Fate said is “supposed” to do it with the sword she trusted to my care.

“Stop touching it,” the kindred with me coos in a tone not belonging in a Bladehand Tower, but a nursery.

A full moment now separated from that finale stroke brings slow awareness back to me: I’m being carried on a gurney, a kindred at each corner, along the R’th-lit passageway. But the view is wrong. This passageway I’ve walked for two years is no longer full and open, but flat and close. Enough awareness still clings for me to understand this much, but not why keening follows me through this passage, why my body thrashes outside my control.

I reach for the ceiling because it appears so close. Why does it appear close? I touch the right half of my face again. A warm hand grasps my icy fingers and pulls them away. I close my left eye. Why can’t I close my right eye? Or is the opposite true…

Why can’t I open it?

The truth of what happened waits for my acceptance. I reach for understanding, but that small chink of truth slivers under my skin, and my mind shatters with the force. My mind implodes into a black hole and absorbs my body and everything that remains of me. Even my name disconnects, becoming something else, floating outside my skin like a soap bubble. A gentle bump, a slight breeze will pop it, and it will die.

Oblivion becomes my world, a place of no sensation, awareness, nor time. But no known homeostasis can be maintained forever, so this ethereal space of mine, too, warms and brightens. The brightening isn’t unpleasant. It forms for me a floor so I won’t careen through this void. The brightening brings warmth, too, and a realization that ice has held me immobile. I like the warmth better than the ice. I allow the brightness to continue, warmer and brighter, sensations now touching my body when before I felt nothing. The pressure starts at the back of my head, runs cold down my back, prickling next against thighs, calves, and heels last.

The last sensation of something grating on my left eyelid brings full awareness, and I acknowledge I’m laying in a bed in a lighted room with a cloth covering my face. I remove the cloth. The familiar ceiling in my bed chamber appears flat and close, and I reach to touch my right eye to divine why it won’t open. My finger strikes a smooth metal mask on the right side of my face. A quick analysis of all five fingers reveals the mask entombs from my forehead to the round of my chin, stretches from my nose to the hinge on my jaw, and covers my right eye.

I sit up and prise fingers under the mask.

“Don’t,” says a familiar voice.

I stop but don’t drop my fingers, turning to see Master Trawlyn sitting beside my bed.

“Congratulations, you failed,” the old elf says, large hands stretched flat on robed knees. “You must fail the last bladehand test,” he quotes, “so you will pass all others. You must feel defeat once so you will never feel defeat again.”

“I don’t want to be a bladehand.” My first words since I failed my final test, the final test I’d trained to defeat every day for two years. “I want to go back to my last test and give it all back.”

“You can’t.”

“I need to.”

“You can’t.”

His words tattoo on my heart, on the rest of my life.

“I have to.”

“You can’t.”

“I made a…” I almost say mistake, but I remember Markie’s lesson on mistakes. “I made a bad choice to become a bladehand. It’s not what I wanted. I didn’t realize I’d become like this. I can’t live…live like this.” I sweep an arm down, indicating my eighteen years, healthy on the outside, now poisoned inside. “I can’t live like this.”

“You will live like this. You will learn how. Notice that blanket you’ve slept under every night has been made into your official, designated bladehand cloak.”

I pinch the black fabric, the adjusted hem, reaching back to the hood resting against my back.

“The Warrior Aspect God Crimstone himself blessed that blanket. He infused R’th into the fabric, and it’s that R’th that settled your mind and healed your pains every night. This is how you, and every bladehand in the Tower, rise every day with energy and fervor. The workers in this Tower made this blanket into your cloak to help you adjust to your new life, your new scar, as you move about every day. You will learn one day how to take it off and heal yourself, living off your energy and fervor instead of relying on the cloak’s artificial aid.”

“I don’t want it. I don’t want any of this!” I leap to my feet and fling the cloak off. I reach all ten fingers under the edge of the mask and tear it off. Sight in my right eye does not return.

I run to the mirror. My face slides into the reflection, left eye seeing what my right eye never will again, and my legs, heart, and soul, lose life. Blackness wedges into my mind, and when my consciousness returns, I’m on the floor. I roll onto my knees, hunching until my forehead touches stone, and sob from wells deeper than the Underrealm.

Master Trawlyn kneels beside me. I, fluid and directionless, don’t resist when the elf raises my head and presses the mask back against the right half of my face, adhering with the lodestones embedded into the bone of my chin and forehead. The elf pulls the cloak back over me, and testiment to the healing R’th weaved inside the threads, my pains and agonies don’t vanish, but I grasp onto the aid driving me forward despite them.

“You must not show your scar to anyone.” The elf’s hands rest on my shoulders. “You know why because you saw the effects yourself. That does not mean you should be ashamed of your scar. You should never be ashamed of any part of you. You will learn how to live with it. Now having failed your test and knowing what defeat feels like, you will never feel defeat again, ever so long as you choose not to fail. Now rise back to your feet. Collect your things. And walk out these doors.”

“Then what?”

“Then you must decide what next steps to take.”

A silhouette of a woman holding 2 swords


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