“Information is an oft-underestimated weapon – control what your enemies know, and you can influence what they think, how they feel, how they act. Wars have been won and lost without a single drop of blood spilt, fought only on the back of secrets and lies whispered in the right ears, innocuous statements planted in the right conversations. Indeed though it is one of the hardest to master, I feel there are no tools more potent than one’s control of information.”“Knowledge and Power”, Saros of the East
The creak of the door echoed through the block, the scrape of swollen wood on the stone floor jarring Kliric from his reverie. He let out a short, low sigh, mentally preparing himself for the day’s fresh barbs from the jailor. He blinked slowly, listening to the footsteps reverberating through the prison. The jailor had new boots, by the sound of it.
The footsteps grew steadily louder as the drake approached, and Kliric could hear the jostling of his armor. Something else dragged behind him, he could hear, and Kliric began to wonder what it might be. He turned his attention from the doorway as the footsteps approached their destination. He didn’t want the jailor to know he cared. The echoing gait stopped.
“Sir Kliric,” came a voice, and Xarkul turned to face the jailor, mustering the most derisive expression he felt would go without punishment, realizing as he did so that the voice was not that of his tormentor.
Standing framed in the iron doorway, the morning sun glittering across his figure through the thin porthole in the heights of Kliric’s cell, stood Scale’s king, resplendent in his gilded ebon armour, a long cape trailing along the stone behind him.
Kliric did not respond, his face stern as he locked eyes with Valasar.
“I trust your…lodgings are to your liking?”
“Mm. Not the most comfortable, by the looks of things, but…hardship builds character, as my father was fond of saying.”
Kliric exhaled slowly. “What is it you want?”
Valasar raised one corner of his mouth in a half-smile. “I wished to thank you for your counsel. Wise indeed. I understand why my father prized it so highly. And I wished to share news with you.”
Xarkul blinked slowly, waiting.
“The 3rd Legion were dispatched as you will be aware, and met with resounding success. Your…the separatists’ forces were crushed, and I have now received a full account of identified casualties.”
Xarkul’s chest went tight.
“I’m afraid your son will not be joining you in this cell.”
Xarkul’s jaw clenched and he started to his feet.
“He was slain in the conflict,” Valasar said, beginning to pace side-to-side in long, slow paces. “Captain Varix’s account is that he was quite the coward, when it came down to it. ‘Grovelled in the dirt, begging for his life’ after his forces were routed, she said.”
Xarkul felt a hot ball within his chest, but said nothing.
“Yes, unfortunately the boy was all shine and no glass, as it turned out.” The Scalelord paused a beat, taking stock of the drake before him, standing taut in his cell, fists clenched at his side. “He cried when she told him you had ordered the attack.”
Kliric’s eyes went wide.
Valasar leant against the bars of the cell, bringing his voice low. “A pity. There was also…another you should know of.”
“There was an older scalar civilian amongst the casualties.”
Xarkul felt his vision swim, saw the words the Scalelord was about to speak before they had passed the king’s lips. He leant with one hand against the cold stone wall as he delivered them.
“Your wife, Nashann, perished alongside him.”
Valasar smiled as the elder dragonknight let out a yelp of pained breath. He reached around the side of his armor, withdrawing something.
“I am sorry to have not informed you sooner, but I wished to be certain of the identities before I informed you. I know they were all you had left in this world.”
Scale’s king grinned, and tossed something through the bars with a metallic ring as it bounced along the dusty stone floor.
“That was what your son had when he perished. I’m sure he’d wish for you to have it.” Valasar straightened himself and turned to depart. “I shall leave you to your grief.”
Kliric listened as the footsteps began to echo once more around the prison block, growing fainter as the Scalelord ascended the steps. His face was slick with tears, his scales reflecting the sunlight. He slipped slowly down the wall, slumping at its base, wracked with pain and hate. So long he had waited without word, and though he had steeled himself for what might come the reality was wholly different. He wiped the tears from his blurry eyes, raised his head to see what the Scalelord had left him.
In the middle of the cell there lay an insignia, spattered with red stains and now caked in the dust and grime of the prison floor. Balanced scales set upon a shield.
Sir Xarkul Kliric, proud dragonknight of Scale, cradled his face in his hands, sobbing quietly. The sound of it echoed throughout the prison block.