Filare woke up hanging from manacles set into an exceedingly damp wall in a dim chamber filled by darkness and the distant ocean’s roar. The dark-iron walls were engraved with geometric patterns in scummy bronze, and there was none of the arcane ornamentation that abounded elsewhere in the port. A disused supply room, maybe? This wasn’t an unfamiliar experience, but it was one he always hoped to avoid repeating. His hopes were, once again, in vain.
Is this my sixth or seventh stay? He wondered. Wandering thoughts were the best thing for long imprisonment. If you let yourself get into the habit of thinking about how cramped the room was, how much the manacles chafed at your wrists, the ache in your arms, you–stop that. None of that.
“Weak, indeed,” he muttered. He tried to haul himself up through the manacles by grasping the wall-mounts with his fingers, and failed miserably. “Fine, I concede the point. Physically.”
“That still nettles you?” a familiar voice drawled. Filare looked down first, but as his eyes adjusted, he realized he was in a pit. He strained his neck upward, and saw a tall, lean woman at the rim of a hole above.
There was no skin on her face.
“Hrk,” he said. She glared at him, exposed muscles tensing and squelching audibly on her brow. Despite the raw flesh, she seemed to bleed very little, only occasional bubblings-up from between the angry fibers. “Oh,” he said. “I see.” Now the Inquisitor’s visit made sense. Now Filare understood. But why am I here? “Saijun, isn’t it? It’s strange. With everything I’ve seen on my travels, I never believed you were real.”
The Lich adjusted turquoise-trimmed-lilac robes–HOW. HOW DO THOSE COLORS HAPPEN?–and shifted a straight-bladed spear from hand to hand. “Too much a coward to believe in powers such as I, are you?”
“What?” Filare shook his head, and the words were out before he fully thought through their stupidity. “I just thought it was too outlandish. The oldest Lich in history, you know, having such appalling color choices.” There was a tingle–then tearing exploded across the entire left side of his face. Filare felt hot blood gushing down, but was more focused on the ripping, stinging agony that drowned out his own mind. He wept at the pain, and the tears made it worse. He screamed and, without shame, voided his bowels.
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” a booming snarl rattled through the room, and all at once another figure stood beside Saijun. This one was shorter by half a foot, but it was Saijun who backed away. “I LEAVE YOU TO WATCH HIM FOR A SINGLE MINUTE. ONE SOLITARY MINUTE.”
The newcomer delivered a backhand slap to the Ton Lich that put her three feet into the opposing wall. A howling wham of tortured iron nearly burst Filare’s eardrums. The minor concussion and immediate tinnitus made a nice distraction from the pain mapping his face. “Get out. GET OUT!” And Saijun… got out. She pulled herself free from the wall with a metallic screech and hurried out, shooting a glare at the newcomer’s back.
“I am so, so sorry about this, young man,” the newcomer said. He lifted something floppy and red from the floor where Saijun had been standing. Filare saw an empty eye-socket. It was the left half of his face. There was a flash of dawn hues, and the figure was hovering mid-air next to him.
“Now, hold still a moment,” the newcomer said.
“Who–” Filare began.
He felt he was shuddering, but his body was motionless. His heart hammered in his ears, but he could do no more than breathe.
“I’m sorry for that as well,” the newcomer said. “I know your kind, young man. You can’t stop asking questions. Gets you in trouble, doesn’t it?” He pressed the ruined skin to Filare’s face. There came a squirming feeling and a heady rush; the pain turned to itching, and then to pleasant warmth.
Filare could move again, and repeated his question. “Who are you?” The figure was the most nondescript man he’d ever seen, neither young nor old, neither pale nor dark, with dark brown hair and brown eyes that might’ve fit any human on Canno. His green robes were pleasant, no more, no less.
“Smarter than Saijun,” the mage–Lich?–said.
“That’s not an answer,” Filare said.
“Yes, it is,” the mage answered. “Intelligence is the single best measure of a human, Filare Salavetto. You should know this after all your studying. I could give you other answers, and they’d tell you where I come from, the people I knew, names and dates and names and dates. But who am I? I’m more than the rest of you.” He patted Filare on the cheek and frowned at Filare’s doublet.
“Shame that Saijun didn’t think to check you for enchantments, eh? We had grand plans for this place… but the Inquisitor seems to have a little tracking spell on your clothing, here.” The mage snapped his fingers. Explosions rattled the stone all around.
“Um,” Filare said, but the dawn-hues flashed again and the figure was gone. “I’m still chained up!” Filare yelled.