Shadowrealm - By Paul S. Kemp


1 Nightal, The Year of Lightning Storms (1374 DR)

For hours I pace the dark halls of the Wayrock’s temple. The anxious stomps of my boots on stone are the war drums of my battle with myself. Nothing brings peace to the conflict in my head. Nothing illuminates the darkness, dulls the sharp, violent impulses that stab at the walls of my self-restraint. The Shadowwalkers trail me, as furtive as ghosts. I catch only glimpses of them from time to time but I know they are there. Perhaps Cale asked them to watch over me. Perhaps they have taken that charge upon themselves.

Later, I sit in the dining hall of the temple and eat the food the Shadowwalkers set before me. I wonder, for a moment, how Riven gets food to the island, then wonder why I care.

Eating is mechanical, unfeeling, an exercise in fueling the soulless shell of my body. It brings me no pleasure. Nothing human does, not anymore. The Shadowwalkers see to my needs, my meal, would see to my safety, were it necessary, but say little. They, creatures of darkness themselves, see something in me greater than mere darkness. They see the looming shadow of my father, the black hole of his malice, the dark hint of what I am becoming. I see it in their averted gazes, their quiet words in a language I do not understand. They are not afraid, but they are cautious, seeing in me one past redemption, one whose fall cannot be arrested but whose descent must be controlled lest I pull others down with me.

And perhaps they are correct. I feel myself falling, ever faster, slipping into night.

I consider murdering them, making them martyrs to the cause of being right. They would die, gurgling on blood, but content as they expire in the knowledge that they were correct about me.

“You’re right,” I say to them, and grin. My fangs poke into my lower lip, draw blood.

Their slanted eyes look puzzled. They speak to one another in their language and the shadows around them swirl in languid arcs.

I need only learn where they sleep, take them unawares, slit throats until I am soaked in blood. …

I realize the path my mind has taken, how tightly I am holding my feeding knife. With effort, I put the feet of my thoughts on another path. I bow my head, ashamed at the bloodletting that occurred in my imagination.

My mind moves so seamlessly to evil.

I am afraid.

“I am not a murderer,” I whisper to the smooth face of the wooden table, and Nayan and his fellows pretend not to hear the lie.

I am a murderer. I simply have not yet murdered. But I will, given time. The good in me is draining away into the dark hole in my center.

My soul is broken. I am broken.

I am my father’s son.

I consider killing myself but lack the will. Hope, for me, has become the hateful tether that keeps me alive. I hope that I can live without doing evil, hope that I can heal before it is too late. But I fear my hope is delusion, that it is only the evil in me preventing suicide until I am fully given over to darkness, when hope will no longer be relevant.

I feel the Shadowwalkers watching me again. Their gazes stir the cup of my guilt, my self-loathing.

“What are you looking at?” I shout at Nayan, at Vyrhas, at the small, dark little men who presume to judge me.

They look away, not out of fear, but out of the human habit of averting the gaze from the dying.

I hate them. I hate myself.

I hate, and little else.

Staring at the walls, at the shadow shrouded men who think me lost, I realize that hope, whether real or illusory, is not reason enough to live. It will not sustain me. Instead I will hold on for another reason—to take revenge for what has been done to me. Rivalen Tanthul and my father, both must be made to pay, to suffer.

For an instant, as with every thought, I wonder which half of me has birthed such a desire. I decide that I do not care. Whether it is a need for justice, vengeance, or simple bloodlust, it is right and I will do it.

I look at my hands—they show more and more red scales every day—and realize I have used my knife to gouge spirals into the wood of the table, lines that circle and circle until they disappear into