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The Empty Chalice

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He had a name, once. A name and a home, a sweetheart and a vocation, all the things that tether mortal men to their lives. How long ago was that, now?

He draws his tattered coat closer around his shoulders, and his tattered memories scatter into the dark again. Each night, fewer fragments of them remain; each night, he feels the pull of the shadows along his bones a little more strongly.

The shadows are where he belongs now. The Shadow Queen made him what he has become: her breath fills his lungs, her power coils through his limbs, and her demands hold his heart fast.

He lurches from one shadow to the next, between the leaning crooked buildings of a town whose name is mere noise to him now. Clouds cloak the moon as he slips in through an unbarred window; he can taste the watery bitterness of a sleeper's fear.

For half an instant the sleeper's face is calm, and looks almost familiar—but then it distorts in distress in the same moment that he feels his Queen's claws catch in his mind, and the connection disappears.

He fumbles in his coat for the chalice he carries, kneeling beside the bed. He holds it out as the sleeper exhales, watching the dark oily curls of nightmare-fear swirl and splash down into the chalice's silver bowl. When the sleeper quiets, slack-faced and still, he draws back, and as always he looks into the chalice to see what he has collected.

As always, the chalice is already empty again. Its appetite is endless. When the chalice is full, his Queen has told him, then his service to her will be done. When the chalice is full, and not before.

He turns toward the window. He has far yet to go.