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Raven's Return

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He had been satisfied. 

When the bombs burst forth in their fiery majesty, The  Mad Governor had felt satisfaction the likes of which he'd never known before. He could hear the screams easily enough from his perch on the neighboring cliff. When he thought of it later, the woman's scream gave him particular pleasure. He wished he could have seen her face, as everything she loved crashed around her.

But that would defeat the purpose.

He saw the carpenter's face, when he discovered her body. He wished he could have been there when the news first broke, when the fool rushed back to the ruins of his life, but this was enough. He rigged a simple scrying stone in the wreckage and watched with delight from the inn where he'd found refuge.

Burnsides rushed in, shouting for his bride, his father, anyone who could hear. He found nothing but rubble. He screamed, and his anguish was palpable. A physical thrill shot through Kalen as he watched the fool dig fruitlessly through debris. 

Burnsides did not disappoint. He searched for three days straight, stopping only when he passed out with exhaustion. Kalen relished every oath and prayed that slipped from his lips, none more so than the inhuman cry of despair when he unearthed his wife's body.

"Jules- Julia, please," as if she would return if he just begged hard enough. "Don't- please don't-" he couldn't even say the word.

Kalen was not a cold man, immune to the desires of flesh. The craftsman's daughter was always beautiful, despite the filth of her mouth and dress. The Governor had once indulged himself with a brief caress of those springy black curls but she never looked lovelier than in the embrace of the reaper. 

Burnsides could not have done better if he'd been trying to please his enemy, laying his bride and mentor in perfect view of the scrying stone. Gray dust layered her dark skin, but he could clearly see the rust colored blood drying on her forehead. She'd been hit, a beam or something crashing into her skull in the explosion. He hoped she hadn't lost consciousness, picturing her last moments, panicked as her air ran out and hope faded. Her legs were crushed. Perhaps she'd been immobilized, helpless and frightened in her final hours, begging as her husband did now. That image would sustain Kalen for years to come.

Burnsides dug until he could dig no more. He slept next to his wife, only to wake and dig again. By the time he'd recovered every body, he was a husk, unable even to cry. Still Kalen watched. 

This would be the last pain he could savor after all. Burnsides had consigned him to life without power, scrounging in the woods like a common wraith. He had lost Raven's Roost but he would keep Burnsides.

For the rest of his life, Kalen would be the carpenter's first and last thought. He wouldn't rest until Kalen was dead by his hand. He promised his wife, again and again, to pursue her killer to the ends of the earth. Kalen did not intend that he should make good on that promise. In fact, Kalen would follow Burnsides to make certain his revenge took. Let Burnsides hunt him. Let rage consume his soul, until he was as throughly warped as he'd made Kalen. Let them spend the rest of their lives entangled with each other. Gleefully, Kalen planned the next decades. He would watch Magnus' search from afar, allowing him glimpses every couple of years to keep his rage stoked. What a merry game of cat and mouse they would play! And Burnsides had believed they were finished!

For the first year he kept meticulous tabs on the carpenter. He delighted in watching the fool brutalize his former conspirators, demanding Kalen's whereabouts. He had taken such pride in his gentle ways, made so many speeches about the rebellion's moral responsibility to be better than the mad Governor. What if his comrades could see him now, drowning his pain in mead and taking any job that would allow him to hit something? How he must despise himself, perhaps even more than he hated Kalen.

As with any plaything, Kalen eventually grew less interested in Magnus Burnsides. There were annoying trivialities of exile to be dealt with. He took residence deep in the felicity wilds, ousting a warlock from his ramshackle tower. Killing the old man after months of watch Burnsides suffer felt almost like taking a new lover. The exhilaration of slitting his throat made Kalen dizzy. It had been so long since he tasted blood that fresh. 

Without his city, and the Warlock's stores more than enough to last the winter, Kalen had little to occupy him. He turned to the Warlock's library and soon saw a path to reclaiming some of his power.

Burnsides had taught him a valuable lesson, in his clumsy way. A Governor requires people to believe him powerful or his power will fade. In Raven's Roost, Kalen had been as a God. Discovering that he was not had been a harsh blow. This time he would humble himself and bind power inextricably to his soul.

The Demon Lord laughed when Kalen first sought his audience. "You live, mortal, only because it amuses me." He sniffed the air hungrily. "Few would presume to attempt to contain my glory. Truly, you are The Mad Governor." He chuckled. "Or half true any way."

Kalen bristled. "I am honored, oh flayer of souls, that you have noticed my existence."

"Much different than your old post, Kalen. What boon do you plead?"

Kalen swallowed. "I wish to enter your service, oh Alvarez. I proffer my soul for your-"

He laughed, loud enough to shake the books from their shelves. " That twisted, deformed scab of a soul? You are a fool more than you are a madman, my dear disgraced Governor. I could destroy you and claim it now without wasting the fractional power you ask for."

Kalen paused, biting his lip. He had anticipated this eventuality but to hear it from the Tanar’ri’s mouth did sting. "I can offer you other souls... pure souls."

He looked intrigued. "What souls can you offer?”

Kalen smiled. "As many as you wish, my lord of Torture. I have been your follower in all but name since I first peeled apart the insects crawling beneath me. Now, I seek knowledge only you, oh Purging Duke, can supply.

He chuckled again. "Bring me your souls, Kalen. Three should do. If your offering is sufficient, I may consider your request."

"Your are most gracious, my lord," Kalen said prostrating himself. "When-?"

"I shall return in my own time," He roared. "Gather your souls, Kalen. Do not disappoint me."

He disappeared with a crack of thunder, blowing out the summoning fire. Kalen dusted himself off and set out immediately. Three souls, a hard commodity in the wild but not impossible. He would take the first three he found and return them to the Tower. Better to have something waiting, regardless of purity.

Kalen has extreme misgivings about his offerings. Two drunken gnomes and a hag were not promising. Then his luck changed. A family of halflings, barely out of their teens, got lost on their journey home. Two brothers and a sister accepted the offer of guidance with warmest gratitude. He brought them back to his tower and set to his work.

It was exhilarating, to have evil a few souls back in his power. When Alvarez returned, he was impressed.

"You have exceeded your promise, Kalen. Six souls..." He sniffed the cages as the victims scrambled away, as much as they were able. “Three pure.”

“My apologies, Lord.”

“It is suitable,” Alvarez settled back on his haunches. “Very well, my would be pupil. Show me what you know.”

The next days were intoxicating. Kalen thought he would never feel pleasure like that again- not after Raven’s Roost- but the Halfling girl’s cries were almost as sweet. The Gnomes proved surprisingly enjoyable. Kalen did not expect them to be lovers. Alvarez showed him how to use Compel to pit one against the other, relishing his lover’s screams.

The youngest Halfling boy was the last to expire. Alvarez decreed they could use no more healing slots to continue their games. “The spirits are well broken, Pupil.” He said with a booming laugh. “The accord is struck! You will continue your studies with new, fresher souls. I shall return when I see fit.”

“You honor me, Lord.”

“I know. Fare thee well, Warlock Kalen.”

So it would continue for years and years. Kalen snatched the fools who wandered over his path and learned new and exciting ways to make them scream. As a warlock, he could check in on Burnsides without risking his renewed passion. The carpenter continued struggling on. He’d created a jovial mask for himself, but Kalen could still see the brokenness behind him, especially on the anniversary of Raven’s Roost’s fall.

He saw Magnus only once without intending to. On the Day of Story and Song, he learned The carpenter’s true origin along with everyone in existence. It gave him a special tingle, not just to watch the fool die again and again but to know he had succeeded where a universe consuming entity of pure nihilism had failed. Mad Governor Kalen had broken Magnus Burnsides where even The Hunger could not.

Then, over a year after The Hunger’s final defeat, Kalen read a newspaper.

He had not intended to read it. News of the outside world did not interest him now that he could no longer shape it. His latest experiment, some snot nosed elf, had been carrying it in their satchel. It was nearly a month old, and featured profiles on each of The Seven Saviors of Faerûn. He flipped passed the three-page spread on Taako, the Elven Celebrity, and on to Magnus Burnsides.

He would have resurrected Raven’s Roost himself, only to destroy it again.

How dare he, that muscle bound fool, train his mutts on the ruins of Kalen’s empire. Hammer and Tails- a slap in the face nearly as infuriating as that brain dead grin. And nothing- not a whiff or whisper- of Governor Kalen.

There was no brokenness, no pain, in his eyes. No hunch to his shoulder. No regret in his smile.

Kalen killed the Elf without thought. He had been lax, allowed his revenge to come undone in pursuit of newer thrills.

No more.

Kalen took his cloak and traveling bag from the closet. He would return to Raven’s Roost.