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Ember's Truth

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Torio Claven wandered the dark, dank basement of the abandoned keep. She was not walking with any sort of purpose or plan; she just wanted to move. The ever-present energy that emanated from the stones constantly made her feel like her soul was being sapped right out over her body. If she moved, then the feeling subsided. It worked well enough, most of the time…

Voices in another room pulled her from her inner thoughts. They came from the inner sanctum of the keep, muttering like always. When Torio entered she spotted Garius and Lorne whispering something to each other, barely noticing her entrance. After some moments Garius saw her first and made a pointed look to Lorne, who turned to see her. Lorne then looked back at Garius and nodded.

"Move quickly, Lorne, before we lose the advantage." Garius commanded in his stern but quiet way.

"It will be done, milord." Lorne responded firmly and turned to leave the room. As he passed Torio, he gave a twisted smile that send a small, cold shiver down her spine. It was a smile full of bloodlust.

"Master Garius, is there something you need of me?" Torio asked with idle curiosity. She had a bad feeling about whatever they were speaking of, and wanted to know more.

"Not yet, Torio. You will be informed later." Garius said reassuringly. "For now we must wait."

"Until what?" She asked rather quickly. Garius noticed her nervous question and examined her where she stood. His black eyes unnerved her, as did the lighting in the room which made his skin look purple and sickening.

"Until it is time, Torio. Have patience." He said, almost as a growl.

"Of course, Master Garius. I will await your orders." She said, and left the room without hesitation. She would not ask more when he was in this mood.

***

It was only a few days later when a messenger came to inform Torio that Garius requested her presence in the lower chambers. She came hastily, knowing there would be news at last. Though she did not know if her eagerness was from pure curiosity or from anxiety. When she passed through the door she almost became ill.

Lorne stood with a triumphant smile on his face, blood splattered over his armor, and the smell of burning about him. At least a dozen brutes behind him were the same. "...and we made sure one got away to tell the tale." He was saying to Garius.

"Good. Now we need only to enact the rest of the plan." Garius said. He turned towards Torio, as if he had sensed her presence. "And now Torio, your curiosity can be sated." He purred.

Torio had collected her composure before Garius set eyes on her, thank the gods. She looked back at him and asked, "What plan is this?" She could hardly contain her disgust as she gazed at the men.

"The one we seek has slipped through our fingers too many times. It is time we used more force." Garius explained. "A few days ago the group passed through the village Ember. I sent Lorne to disguise himself as our target and destroy the town, and anyone who fought back."

Lorne let out a hearty laugh. "I don't think anyone did!" He barked. The men laughed with him. Torio waited until the laughter died away to speak.

"Master Garius, Ember is a Luskan territory, is it not? Much of our trade passes through there. Wouldn't it be unwise to remove it?" She reasoned.

"You are clever, Torio.” Garius grinned softly, though Torio was not sure she liked the compliment. “Yes, it was a valuable trade stop, I had our connections stop trade some weeks ago. We had planned to destroy Ember when they were in the dead of winter, but word arrived that our target passed through the village not long ago. It was… an opportunity we could not pass.”

This... this was not something she could approve of. Subterfuge and lies she could handle. It was what Garius has recruited her for. But attacking a small trade and farm town? Who were likely already beginning to starve? "Master Garius, I recall you saying that you didn't gain your title from drowning Luskan in blood. Has that changed?" Torio asked. She wanted to make a personal jab at him--to ask if he was afraid--though she feared the repercussions.

Garius gave one small chuckle, and some of the others made nervous, small sneers. It was clear who they all feared, who was in charge. "I knew you would be soft, Torio. That is why we waited to inform you of your part in this." Garius chided, as if speaking to a child.

"And just what is my role in this?" Torio asked, becoming agitated.

"Force Neverwinter into giving us what we want.” Garius commanded. “Go to the city and plea murder to Nasher. They will give over to us for Low Justice courts, rather than incite another war. There is a chance that they will prevent this, but do not let them. If you do, Neverwinter may turn and point at you and Lorne for the destruction." Garius' words were ominous and threatening. This was his hook to make her do as he commanded: you or them, because I will no longer protect you.

"It shall be done, Master Garius." Torio confirmed. Her voice was solemn and guarded. She could feel everyone's eyes like darts of ice in her as she left the room.

***

There was no success. They had not forced Neverwinter into low justice, they had lost the trial, and now Lorne was dead. Torio could not hold her head high when she returned to the lower chamber where Garius awaited.

“Word of the trial came to me faster than you did. It would have been wiser for you not to come at all.” Garius told her.

“Forgive me, Master Garius. Neverwinter proved more… capable than we expected.” Torio stammered. She knew she had failed Garius for the last time. She wondered how he would kill her.

He shook his head in disgrace. “Ember destroyed, the time wasted with this trial… I trusted you, Torio.” he seethed.

Then you should have chosen someone else! she wanted to cry. I never wanted any part in this! You forced my hand! But she remained silent as Garius carried on, his voice raised in anger.

“Brutes like Lorne.. they swarm the Luskan streets in hundreds, thousands! But you…”

She fought the urge to scoff. Was that supposed to be a compliment hidden under his rage? “Master… Garius… the one we seek still has the shards! They can still be retrieved. Tell me what to do, and I shall do it.”

“Do? You are to do nothing.” Garius barked. “And you are to say nothing-- especially to our “ally”.” He paused, seeming to quiet his rage. “The shards are out of my reach… for now. But I have almost all I need for the ritual. And when that is done, I shall need our ally no longer. I shall not need anyone.”

His words held a dark finality that made Torio shiver. He dismissed her, saying he would call for her to witness his transformation later. She thought not. Away from the eyes of his damned priests and followers, she packed her things.

***
Torio’s luck ran out in Highcliff when someone recognized her, and she was detained in the local jailhouse. A day later, she was greeted by several Greycloaks and Sir Nevalle. Despite how he looked at her with complete disgust, she was deeply grateful for a familiar face.

“I’m here to escort you to Neverwinter, where your fate will be decided by a real trial, you Luskan snake.” he spat. She did not respond. She knew it would seem haughty to them, as if she still believed she was faultless. Yet inside she was nothing but a broken woman, of an animal who had been kicked enough to know that it was done.

They took her to a cell somewhere in Blacklake. It was dim, damp, the walls made of rough stone, with one cot and a worm-eaten blanket. She knew she deserved no less.She waited for a long time there, as her fate was decided by a court she never saw.

She still remembered Ember, and she was glad now that she had lost the trial. She was glad that she had not warned him, and that he was gone. But this damned ring… It glinted in the single, pale shaft of light from a window several empty cells away. A dark band with a deep red-violet stone set in it. Garius gave it to her as a means of tracking her. Lorne had a similar one, as did anyone who followed Garius. Torio wanted to leave it, but she could not. She had to keep it to remind herself of what she had done.

Garius had destroyed Ember, and then he destroyed everything that she was. She prayed to the Gods that he find his punishments. Then she prayed that hers came soon as well.