The water dripped from the recent rain that drove across Mardrun, falling in a stark contrast to the the silence of the cell where one James Arbor found himself. He awoke with a start and couldn’t ignore a feeling of pain from the chains biting into his wrist, but slowly that pain dulled into a mysterious cooling comfort. James sighed with relief and then stiffened in realization of what was happening. It all came racing back to him all at once: the dream from the night before, The Spirits leaving him, the darkness that consumed his world, and finally the loving words of a female voice and the gift it could provide.
“Hey! I know someone’s there. I need to talk to Volrok!” James screamed out trying to get the attention of the guards outside his cell.
“What are you on about in there?” one of the men at the doorway nearby exclaimed.
“I need to talk to Commander Volrok. I have a request of him”
“And why would the Commander care to listen,” the guard sneered, “to a request from a traitor like you?”
“Because until the trial I’m still a member of the Broken Blade,” James’ voice shook with uncertainty, “and I’m sure Volrok would at least be willing to talk to me if he’s got a quick second.” There was no reply, but James did see a shifting of shadow from beyond the doorway and he simply waited.
The Guard laughed aloud after a moment, “You must be mad as well! You know how many letters he has gotten and had to respond to? I am sure that he doesn’t–” the guard paused for the briefest of seconds and the sound of clattering armor rang out from the other side of the door, “Sir!? I thought you were occupied in your study?”
“Move aside… I am going to speak with the dishonored… “ a familiar voice, thick in accent echoed off the stone walls.
“Sir, you shouldn’t have to sully your presence with the likes of him,” the guard began, “Please go back to your bunk and get some rest commander… You look as if you haven’t slept in days –” . The sound of a thick steel sword being drawn from it’s sheath punctuated the guard’s words and was answered with the quiet sound of a nervous swallow.
“I gave you an order guard and you know fucking damn well that I have not the patience for insubordination at the moment,” a tense silence filled the room, a tactic that Volrok would often employ with his soldiers. Eventually again he spoke, “Now… open. the damned. door.”
Without pause the dungeon was filled with the sounds of the bolts and bars of the door being undone, ending with the final satisfying clunk as the final lock on the door dropped open. There was a moment of silence before the door swung open and in walked in Volrok, his eyes weary and with heavy bags beneath them. He dragged a chair into the room and placed it several paces away from James before sitting down.
Volrok sat in silence as he took out his pipe, packed it, and gently lit it with a thick, heavy match. He took few long drags and sat quietly as the smell of vanilla and bourbon filled the air. When he was ready, Volrok spoke.
“I am here… Now speak, but you have exactly ten minutes of my time,” his tone was cold and distant, “For that is all I am willing to spare you right now…”
James looked over Volrok sitting across from him. Seeing the bags under his eyes and the look of anger and disdain on his face made James shift away slightly.
“Well, you are looking about as bad as I feel.” James said with a nervous chuckle. He sat for a moment, cleared his throat, and readjusted himself in his bindings to get some feeling back into his hands.
“Right then, originally I had called for you for a request but now I think I have a bit of a question before that.” James tried to appear as professional as possible given the circumstances. “Those guards outside are a bit louder then they think and so I’ve heard a couple of things.” James attempted to gesture with his hands only to have them catch in the bindings. He sighed and looked at Volrok letting his hands fall as much as the bindings would allow.
“What is going to happen with me Volrok? I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. I know I’m not going to be staying with Broken Blade after this is all over, but I’ve heard talk of other things that have me worried.” James looked over Volrok with fear in his eyes.
Volrok took a long drag from his pipe and exhaled with a deep sigh, “I will first state this, you placed the company in a very difficult position. If this had been any other insignificant Ulven, we could have gotten away with a blood price and been done with the whole damnedable situation. However, that is not the case here, you attacked a truthseeker, one specifically from Clan Spiritclaw, a respected neutral clan of the Ulven. And to top it all off, she was a Daughter of Gaia. This is the equivalent of attacking someone of nobility.”
He took a deep breath and continued. “Honestly, I can say that I am surprised they didn’t kill you out right, then and there. However, they did not and have left it to me, your Commander, to decide how to punish you… That being said though, I have political figures all over Mardrun breathing down my neck on how we are going to handle your punishment. New Hope, The Ulven Clans, and even Prince Aylin are all keeping tabs on how this will end, and I have done what I could to make sure you won’t see the death penalty…”
He shifted in his seat and looked James hard in the eyes, “As it stands, your punishment is as follows: You will be exiled from Baille Onair, banished from Broken Blade Company and branded as dishonored, and then,” he paused making sure he had James full attention, “The bones in your hand will be crushed and what’s left will be bound so that it cannot heal until a time that you can prove that you do have honor. Judgement on your redemption and honor will be by the standards of the Broken Blade and no one else. Be thankful for that, I am sure we will be far more lenient than the Ulven people. When we feel you have proved your worth, we will gladly repair your hand and let you go on with your life.”
Volrok sat in silence for a moment before speaking again, “You will think this harsh, but some wanted harsher. I did what I could for one who has served me as well as you have… But I cannot be anymore lenient on this matter or the company will all suffer from your actions.” Volrok allowed his head to drop to his chest and gave a long, smoke-filled sigh.
“Maiming…my hand…but that would mean I couldn’t weave Mana” James whispered with a look of shock in his eyes. He tried to bring his hands together in front of him only to be stopped by the shackles and chains that bound him to the cell. He looked at his hands and clenched them into fists.
“How can I regain honor when I can’t do the one thing I’m good at?! I’ve studied most of my life to be a mage and if I can’t do that, then what good can I do!” James snapped out with anger welling in his eyes, “Hell, you’ve seen first hand what I can do. You said it yourself that my Weaver Auras help you immensely” James screamed at Volrok and stepped toward him, but with this one step the bindings cut into the raw flesh on his wrists releasing a slow trickle of blood that fell to the floor behind him.
“All my research into discovering how to wield the divine nature of the Spirits along with the Arcane would be wasted! Volrok you’ve got to reconsider! I’ll accept the exile and the brand but taking away my magic is one step too far, you might as well kill me!” James’ eyes burned with a pleading exasperation and it was clear he didn’t notice the wounds splitting open on his wrists..
Volrok calmly knocked his pipe on the side of his chair, spilling tobacco over the floor and allowed James to speak his peace. He then took a deep breath, stood up, and with a voice that rivaled a war horn, unleashed his thoughts upon James Arbor, “and what about all the years of blood, sweat, tears, and hard work I put into rebuilding this company?! Your attempt at an ‘honorable’ death has put this company’s reputation and future under a gods damned magnifying glass for all of fucking Mardrun!”
He paced for a few moments, his face purpling with rage, “Yes, your magic has proven useful! By Arnath’s hairy taint, it has helped me save a few lives in the process! I am deadly aware of this! However, this fact doesn’t help the situation you put us in!” He paused long enough scoop his chair into one of his large hands and send it sailing across the room. With a resounding crack the chair slammed against the cell door and splintered into little more than kindling,
“But out of all issues of this entire situation, one of the hardest ones for me is that you betrayed me! You betrayed my trust that you would represent those colors on your belt! That you would bring pride and honor to the name Broken Blade Company! You betrayed the relationship we have built over many battles and encounters! Yet despite this, you want me to grant you leniency?! Do you not realize the political ramifications of your actions!? ”
He stopped for only a moment and looked back at James with eyes now watering over with emotion, “In all honesty I should kill you! At least then we wouldn’t have to worry about all of this! All the pressure from Prince Aylin, New Hope, the Ulven would — would be gone in a blade swing! However, because I once trusted you, because I am honorable, because I am at least enough of a fucking friend to give you a gods damned chance at redemption… That is why I will not kill you!”
James retreated from Volrok’s rage and watched him with wide eyes and mouth agape. He attempted to throw his arms forward to shield himself from some of the splinters from the chair that came spilled into his cell, but was once again was stopped by the bindings. James stood still, looking at his bound hands and the blood dripping from underneath the cuffs holding him.
“Not much of a reputation when one measly mage with no mana can bring it toppling down.” James said while looking at the drops of blood slowly staining the stone beneath his feet.
“She was right,” he muttered under his breath, “you are just an angry little man looking for any excuse to put the blame on others!” James seethed
“Fuck honor! All of it! Yours, and the Ulven’s! It is nothing but an excuse for death wishes and power trips. That day in the swamp I wasn’t looking for an ‘honorable’ death. I was just looking for death! The camp denied me that death. Even the Mordok denied my wishes before I went back to the camp! They just sniffed at me and walked past. There was no going back and if it wasn’t for honor I would be dead and not in this mess” James screamed stepping forward as much as the chains would allow, the cuffs dug deep and his wounds split wide and blood began to flow freely from the deep lacerations on his wrists, but James did not stop.
“But now I want to live and live my way” James said through gritted teeth.
Volrok stood there for a moment, his face draining from the once deep maroon of his rage to a lighter pink, flushed with frustration and anger after he heard what James had to say for himself.
“You are not wrong,” he began slowly, “I am an angry man… I am battleborn James Arbor, and I will always be an angry little man till the day I die because of it. As for pushing the blame on others, was it my blade that was swung? Was it my choice to commit such an act? If it was, please point it out to me for I am failing to see where this fault becomes my own.” He controlled his breathing further, trying not to let his anger hold control any more than it has had over the past week.
He took a few more moments to breathe, letting the anger and tension leave his body further, but not fully. “What do you mean you wished to die? What would make you wish for such a fate, Arbor? Help me understand at least that. Maybe if I can understand your reasoning for such thoughts, then maybe I would be able to better help you on your journey of redemption.” His voice had slowly turned from wrath to that of concern, not that of an officer or even that of a friend, but more akin to that of a father trying to comprehend his wayward son.
“It doesn’t matter anymore, you have decided my fate” James whispered slumping his head down. He then proceeded to back away from Volrok slowly one step at a time until he had backed up against the wall of his cell. James then fell to his knees and brought his hands up in front of him.
“I’m truly sorry about this Volrok, but I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately” James said, a light chuckle in his voice. He then covered his eyes with his hands and spoke aloud.
“Mother, I accept your power and your gift!” James shouted and let his head fall back, looking to the ceiling, “Take me away from those who wish to do me harm.” Immediately he felt a gentle embrace wrap around his body and an odd bluish aura rose up from around the blood dripping from beneath the shackles. James brought his hands down towards the floor and with no effort, the manacles slipped over his hands and fell heavy against the wall behind him. For one last time, James looked up at Volrok with tears streaming down his face.
“Goodbye” James breathed to Volrok before bringing his hands up towards the ceiling and called forth a blinding blue flash, and with that James Arbor was gone.
As Volrok’s eyes adjusted from the sudden flash, all that was left for him to see was one small piece of fabric. He watched mournfully as this wayward scrap fell slowly through the air and landed a small puddle of James’ blood. As the blood soaked into the cloth Volrok could see what it was; a red belt flag, marked with a silver fist gripping a broken sword. James’ mark of loyalty to Broken Blade, stained and tarnished.