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Sir Proofreader
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It's a bit of a long one, around 1950 words, but hopefully worth the read - Enjoy!

*

The Silver Mist



Dhuzzak, Archon of the Kabul of the Falling Blade, sat in the ever-present twilight bathing the top-most tower of his spire, a goblet of his family's personal wine in hand as he contemplated what was to come.


A new Cult had risen to rapid prominence in this part of the city. Calling themselves The Silver Mist, they were led by a highly talented Lahmian. A true master of all manner of potions and toxins, Lady Sophorous had seemed at first to offer her services freely to anyone who wished to accept.


Many of the minor Kabuls had rushed to secure the assistance of The Silver Mist and several had simply ceased to exist in the process, vanishing into the endless shadows of Commorragh as more violent and powerful foes opposed their plans.


Those who had gained favour with Lady Sophorous had fared little better. Her youth belied her cunning, it seemed, and some barely worthy of their title of Dracon had found themselves at the mercy of her 'gifts' when they attempted to deceive her.


At first Dhuzzak had found the carnage... entertaining. Foolish underlings over-reaching the limits of their skill deserved whatever they brought upon themselves.


But now Sophorous had struck at a Kabul that owed their allegiance to him, and that could not be allowed. Dhuzzak didn't care one iota about the pathetic Dracon found convulsing on the floor of his private chambers, his body liquefied from within; his only concern was the debt that would now go unpaid. It could not be allowed.


He had sent a messenger to Lady Sophorous, a poor unfortunate who had likely become her latest test subject, and conveyed his eagerness to meet such a talented woman. She had accepted, according to the message burnt into the patch of skin returned to him, the only part of his messenger that had made it back.


Now, he had to decide how to kill Sophorous. He had considered involving one of the Kabuls she had already struck, but had a peculiar desire to handle this task personally. And not with simple violence; yes, he could easily slit her throat as she sat down at his dinner table, but such a death would hardly be satisfying. No, there had to be a degree of subtlety here, something befitting of a woman who had risen to power through deception and guile.


Dhuzzak brought his goblet to his lips once more, letting the sweet wine settle in his mouth for a moment before allowing it to trickle down his throat. It burned throughout its descent, and Dhuzzak grinned wickedly at the sensation.


Before he had been born, his mother had been addicted to Wolfsbane. Many across the Dark City had been, at the time. But that had been many decades past, and Wolfsbane had long since faded into obscurity.


Regardless, his mother's addiction had seen him born with an almost complete immunity to the drug. While hardly useful in a society constantly resorting to newer and more powerful substances, it did allow him the pleasure of indulging in the family wine, which was heavily laced with the toxin.


Sophorous, on the other hand... Despite the obvious talent she possessed, there were a few things that fastidious research and experimentation could not compensate for. She would be too young to have even heard of Wolfsbane, and highly unlikely to have any tolerance to the drug.


Dhuzzak found himself tracing the line of his chin with an elegant finger. The irony of the situation was tempting; could he really poison a poisoner? Just because she would not be immune to Wolfsbane, there was no reason exposure to any other number of toxins would not have granted her a limited resistance. There was a risk the wine would not kill her.


But perhaps... Dhuzzak took another sip of his wine, letting his head fall back as it's fire descended into him, and opened himself to other possibilities. Perhaps he didn't need to kill Lady Sophorous at all. A serious case of poisoning might serve as sufficient warning that she was not immune from the reach of all she crossed.


He would try the wine, Dhuzzak decided. If it killed her, so be it; she deserved her fate. And if she lived, perhaps she would be valuable to him in the future, once she had learnt to fear her betters.


Dhuzzak rose, and went to prepare for what could prove a most interesting dinner.


*


Dhuzzak drifted to awareness within an agony-filled haze of half-light and shadows, blurred hallucinations swimming before him. A dream, then.


He hated dreams. A realm of lies and tricks in which he had no control. He rarely dreamed, but despised them when they came.


He was somewhere within Commorragh, it seemed, within one of the billions of shady, jagged alleys that crossed like veins beneath the towering spires. He was moving, hunting, stalking some unseen prey.


But why the pain? His body trembled as another spear of torment pierced him, and Dhuzzak felt suspicion begin to grow in his mind.


His suffering seemed too real to be a dream. The air against his bare skin, the ground beneath his feet, the dim light, sharp shadows and the weight of the blade in his hand seemed all too substantial to be an imagination.


It was the dagger that was the greatest cause for concern in his mind. The weapon was usually secreted within his elaborate bedframe, accessible only to one who knew of its presence. Accessible only to him.


If he had it within his grasp now...


Dhazzak attempted to delve into his memories; the dinner he remembered. Lady Sophorous was bright, charming, beautiful, and he had truly enjoyed her company, up until the point where she sat at his table and tasted his wine. She took only a single sip before subtly setting the goblet aside, but instantly her manner changed. She was aware she had been poisoned, and throughout the rest of the evening struggled to hide its effects, to combat the dizziness and nausea affecting her. Dhazzak could not deny her strength; she did not succumb, she carried herself admirably, and had lingered for much of the remaining evening until finally excusing herself and returning to her quarters.


Events were still clear to him after that; he had contemplated the evening at the empty table a while longer, eventually departing to rest. He remembered going to his bed, but after that...


There was only this... Whatever it was. Too real to be a dream, and yet he seemed too disconnected from his body for whatever he was experiencing to be real.


But as his ethereal evening wore onwards, so did his sense of dread. He had begun to recognise the areas through which he passed, and when a crystal spire rose in to view before him, he was certain that this was no dream.


Captive within his own body, Dhazzak ascended into the heart of the Cult of The Silver Mist.


*


Lady Sophorous was awaiting him, as he expected. Sprawled on her mattress, pale against the dark silks which draped her elegant frame and the voluptuous bed, her smile as he stumbled into the room and collapsed to his knees on her floor was unexpectedly warm and welcoming. Almost joyful.


He, on the other hand, was outraged; he had been tricked, deceived, drawn from the safety of his own tower through some foul sorcery. And, despite the blade still carried in his palm, he knew he could not fend Sophorous away should she wish to kill him.


With tremendous effort he managed to snarl at his captor, “What have you done to me, you warp-spawned witch?”


Sophorous merely lifted a small bottle from the bedsheets, “It was in my perfume, Dhazzak. A tremendously complex compound that took me many years to develop. But as you can see, the results are tremendous.”


“It works while you sleep. It targets your mind, accentuating your desire to hunt, and locking you on to the scent which accompanies it; my perfume, in this case, hence your presence here. And then it forces you into action, leaving you conscious but powerless as your base instincts, your desire to hunt, conveys you forwards.”


Now she rose, slipping elegantly from the bed and strutting over, a seductive sway in her stride. The silks she wore were partly translucent in places; a faintly glowing tattoo spiralled from ankle to hip upon one side of her body, the pattern mirrored on her opposite forearm. Reaching into the elaborate clip high on the back of her head that confined her hair to a single lengthy tail, she withdrew two small vials and knelt before him.


“Unfortunately,” she continued to explain, “Such a powerful compound has some rather deadly ingredients. If left unchecked they will kill both of us, as I too absorb them while wearing this concoction. And they will kill us tremendously slowly and painfully, as any good poison should do. But... I do have a treatment, if you're interested.”


Despite his anger and frustration, Dhazzak felt a wicked smile creep across his lips. The treatment would have a veritable maze of strings attached to it, but there was no way he could really refuse. Sophorous had walked into his lair, faced him down, and well and truly outplayed him.


He could appreciate a well constructed trap. Probably more so had he not been caught in its centre, but at least there was still one way out. A way that might not prove too unpleasant, depending on the whims of this woman before him.


Aware that Sophorous was still watching him, Dhazzak met her gaze with his own, “What must I do, then, to acquire this treatment? What is your price?”


Her predatory grin was delightful yet terrifying to behold, “An alliance. Between your Kabul and my Cult.”


Dhazzak waited for a moment, his face quizzical, to see what more she had to propose, only to watch her smile soften, “Oh, Dhazzak, we needn't complicate things with tedious details. An alliance is truly all I seek. We aid you and your warriors, and get a portion of whatever your raids produce. A few side benefits, I suppose, are inherent in such an offer; protection, notoriety, power. But...”


Sophorous leant forward a little, draping one hand across his shoulders and gently laying the fingertips of her other on his chest. Her smile had changed again, again adopting a predatory edge but tinted with a slyness that was mirrored in her tone, “But, Dhazzak, the advantages of such an alliance need not flow solely in one direction. I can be quite... accommodating, if you so desire.”


So, Dhazzak reflected, she was offering more then a simple alliance. She was offering companionship. A personal alliance.


Well, not really offering. She was making him aware of what could happen if he accepted her antidote. And offering a painful death as the alternative.


He had no other option. In truth, he wasn't sure he wanted one.


Releasing his semi-paralysed grip on the knife still in his palm, ignoring it as it clattered to the floor, Dhazzak met the Lahmian's gaze with all the sincerity he could muster and managed a shallow nod, “Very well, Lady Sophorous. I accept your offer.”


The lady smiled and uncorked her two vials, placing one in his palm. She twined her arm around his, helping him raise the vial to his lips as she lifted her own.


A moment before she drank, she looked at him with a devious twinkle in her eye, “To our future, Dhazzak.”


He nodded, “To our future.”

*

~End~

I did have an alternate, slightly unfinished middle section which I omitted in order to make the word limit - I might post that once the competition is done.

Best of luck to all the other entrants - look out for the voting thread soon, I would imagine :)

Deadstar_MRC
 

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Just read it and I truly am slack jawed and awe struck.
exceptionally well written, great character build.
I could practically 'see' the story inside my head as some sort of film.
I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Thank you for such a good, enjoyable read.
 

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Poet of the Deed
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Remind ne never to accept an invitation to dinner from Deadstar... :p

Seriously though, a great piece with some genuine menace. I liked it a lot, rep for you.

-Corrigan
 

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Sir Proofreader
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Discussion Starter #4
Aww, thanks guys! Such kind words from the both of you!

And you needn't worry too much, Captain Corrigan - very little author self-insertion with this one. Well, maybe not, actually - I'd probably still be a terrible host, I just wouldn't need poison to achieve that! :D
 
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