“What is a hero but Destiny’s favorite pawn?”
A young warrior waited. In the depths of an ancient tower, buried amongst gods and monsters and beings whose very existence must be forgotten, he waited in chains.
Bleeding and broken. No longer a threat to the worlds. Chains wrapped around his bloodied form and mind, both ones of steel and ones of something far stronger. Though the Warrior had not yet seen two dozen winters, scores of scars formed a tapestry across dark skin.
A singular eye glared out into the dark, black as the abyss itself. The other, once violet but now dripping tears of blood, had been gouged out by the Warrior’s best friend. One of two wounds that still bled. The other was his right hand or at least the stump where it had been. The Warrior had hacked the limb off himself. Betrayed and beaten, the young man waited for his death.
It came for him. If not through steel than through his very blood, creeping in his veins to his heart. But death’s sweet release would not come soon enough.
The warrior had many names, the Black Blade, Oath-breaker, Walker of the Crimson Path, Corpse-Eater, God-killer, Kinslayer, Bastard of the Eagle… Those were given to him by both Gods and men, in both fear and in admiration, in hope and acknowledgment of his destiny. But the young man had chosen one for himself, Brand of the clan Ultor. The name meant sword. A weapon to be used. An unthinking object. A reminder of what he was and always would be. Once he had found pride in knowing fate had a purpose for him.
Now, at the end of his path, he only tasted ash.
“Where are you, Kālam?” Brand asked, though he knew the answer and knew his question lay just as he did, forever lost in darkness, never to be found.
“Talking to the dead again?” murmured a voice within Brand’s skull.
His words awoke another being. The cold death creeping in his veins.
A dragon stirred within Brand. The Abyss twisted together, convalescing through rage and despair. Frozen claws scraped up from the pit in his stomach and found their way into his skull. Long fangs gnawed on his brain, sending waves of pain throughout his body.
The abyssal dragon, bones clacking and rumbling like thunder in the mountains, grinding against Brand’s ear, whispered, “Why not surrender to my power? You have suffered long enough. Together, we could destroy this world, punish those who betrayed you. We could live. Forever”
“No,” murmured Brand. But the word rang hollow. And the dragon knew it.
“You would rather die? Be remembered as a traitor and a fool?”
“I’ve tried worse. I tried being a hero,” quipped Brand but they both knew the words were only just that. Words. All the strength in his body and soul had already left him. Taken, ripped out along with his eye. No. Before then.
The dragon slithered around, tail wrapped around Brand’s throat. Scales bristled, leaving long scratches in his flesh. Only a little while back, Brand might have tried to resist and sent the dragon back into the abyss. A familiar song. But now Brand rejected its tune.
He turned his gaze upwards. To the light.
Moonlight filtered down through a long shaft in the prison ceiling, pooling on the cold water covering the prison floor. The prison was a perfectly circular cavern with a hole in the center descending into the bowels of the earth. Brand could only just make out the shaft’s opening, a speck of light amidst an ocean of black. Crystals lined the walls, hidden by the darkness, enchanted with layers upon layers of the oldest magics, ready to shred his flesh if he so much as brushed against them.
“So you lie here, broken and bowed to fate once more. Pathetic.”
Closing his eye, Brand searched for the will to care. He searched his heart for a reason to fight. To try once more. To shed the yoke of fate. To destroy this rotted, dying world.
Brand turned to the scene imbedded in his broken eye, burned into his mind. He saw his hand turning black before he severed it at the wrist. He saw the brother he had saved and the mage who had walked at their side since the beginning, both turning their backs to him in his hour of need. He saw his best friend’s claw reach out before half his world fell into darkness.
Thousand times. That same scene of betrayal played in front of him. A thousand and one…
His eye snapped open as the fires lit within.
Vengeance. Good enough.
A snarl erupted from his throat, and Brand stood up, water sloshing off his body. No more waiting. The chain rattled and threatened to pull him down. The dragon screaming as though blades twisted into its side, Brand clenched his fists tight, preparing to rip the chains apart.
No more chains, steel or otherwise. Soon, he would do the same to the world. No. Not simply break. He would rip the world apart at its seams, cast down the false idols, devour those he had once loved in a storm of blood and steel and rage.
This was not the end of his story nor was it the beginning. His story began long ago with another’s life.