Seated at a table in the House Ghallanda inn’s dining room, Viktor drums his fingers over the top of his wolf-helm before him, then looks up at the rest of the assembled party—Sier, one hand lightly resting on the hilt of her scion’s blade, watching him expectantly; Lorak, leaning forward in his chair, idly fingering a dagger, calm and patient; Xentril, guzzling another mug of beer in between mouthfuls of roast; and Cuinas, arms folded and slouched in her chair, bored-looking already.
“Lorak is not the only one who has been to the Shadow Marches,” He begins. “A little over a year after the Mourning, I was there with a handful of others—two from Aerenal, and a human. At least, I think he was. One of the Aereni might not have been… nevermind, it is not important.”
Viktor purses his lips, knocking his knuckles thoughtfully against his helm, then continues.
“We found ourselves in a village, some collection of huts and barns. I forget the name. The people there were fearful, clannish, but we found that some of their small number had been disappearing, others acting strangely. I and the others… looked into it. Asked questions, pried into places others would not.”
Cuinas makes an impatient hurry-up gesture with one hand, and Viktor tilts his head toward her, brows furrowed.
“The Shadow Marches are more than just swamps and fields. There are forests, hills… caves… and things deeper. We found our way deep into one, a path straight into Khyber, a place where the blood of the world flows.”
“What?” Xentril asks through another mouthful. “Like lava? Black pitch?”
“No.” Viktor shakes his head, and taps the large red teardrop-vial affixed within the dragon’s-head brooch on his cloak. “I mean, ‘the blood of the world.’ I took some back with me, and it has never clotted, spoiled, or dried. Truly a sign of the Blood Divine…”
Lorak leans further over his side of the table, digging the point of his dagger into the wood. “But that’s not all you found, is it, Ser Viktor?” He asks. “What did you find?”
Viktor nods grimly at the Tharashk, and he grips the top of his helm under his fingers.
“So?” Cuinas interrupts, waving her hands dismissively. “It’s not like we haven’t faced those before, like when we were in that tunnel leading to the Lhazaar Islands—”
“This was worse,” Viktor says, cutting her protests off. “Those beasts we fought… yes, I have seen them before. But there were other things. Worse things. Crawling slime that eats flesh like acid. Nameless… creatures… with limbs like tendrils and faces out of nightmare. And at the end, though we shattered the source of the corruption—a dark, glimmering crystal, a manifestation of the realm these beasts were spawned from—I and the others suffered a few wounds with scars that refuse to heal cleanly. Not many, not crippling, but present. And one more thing…”
He pauses, signalling to a passing waiter, who quickly brings a mug for him, the top foaming over with a dark Karrnathi porter ale.
Sier props her sword across her knees, running her hands over the scabbard as Viktor takes a long drink. “Well, go on… what?”
“We found something else. A coat of armor, but one unlike any I’ve seen. Hide like raw muscle and sinew, that fit perfectly to the Aerenal woman who took it. And when she wore it… eyes, dozens of eyes, opened all over it. Front, back, arms, shoulders. All of them, watching, watching everything endlessly. She tried to remove it but to do so was painful, injurious. We parted company later, and I have not seen her or the others since.”
He takes another long swallow, shaking his head thoughtfully.
“I visited Morgrave on my trip back across Khorvaire, and it took a lot of work, and research,” Viktor whispers. “But I found a name. The name of an… entity… from that far realm… one of those rumoured to have been imprisoned deep within Khyber, long ago, in an ancient age.”
“Who? Or what?” Xentril asks, before cracking the bone between her teeth and sucking out the marrow.
“Belashyrra, the Lord of Eyes,” Viktor answers. His words are barely audible, but even this quiet mention still seems to do… something… to the world for a moment. Like an eyeblink.
“When we go back to the Marches,” he continues, “his… its… presence, may notice mine again. Or any other who intrudes in places it considers interesting. And we may become those intruders.”
Cuinas rolls her eyes. “So why didn’t you tell us this before?”
Viktor slides his helm closer to the edge of the table, keeping it close as he lifts the mug for another drink. “You did not ask, and some things are better unspoken, unless they must be said. But I had to tell you now, since we are headed that way. To warn you, to be ready, just in case, if…”
“If what?” Sier watches him keenly, but looks up, glancing here and there suspiciously, already seeming to know.
“…if its gaze should turn upon us.”