Dogo couldn't help but grin when he saw his son careening toward the demon. He trusted Styx not to get himself killed, though a small pang of worry still attached itself to Dogo's outward calm. The joy at seeing Styx fly, however, overcame any apprehension.
Shortly after Dogo's release from Salidar, after earning his freedom as a gladiator, he had visited the Inkblade Guildhall only to find that Styx had already left the guild. Fau Shae Godani hadn't been eager to tell him why, as the memory still pained her.
Styx had wanted to fly his entire life. He'd glided and coasted on air currents no one had ever felt before, but flight had still captivated him. To move under his own power and not be at the complete mercy of the wind was a dream many had, but few every acquired even an approximation of that freedom.
But Fau Shae had given it to her nephew, heir to her line and raised as her son despite the open admittance that he was not. She wanted to give him the world, and so she had been hard on him from the beginning. Training him to be a great thief, to see the world from the perspective of the survivor.
So she'd put her best work into him. A master craft of inkwork and soul-binding. The blood for the ink had been as fresh as possible, and the ink had been applied within minutes of the ink's construction. Fau Shae had made sure every line was exact, the runes hidden inside drawn with perfect precision to lend their power of focus to the binding. It was a tattoo that rivaled the soul-binding masters of legend, as good a work as any Elrok shaman.
And Styx had only used it once before today, jumping from the highest point in The Shade he could reach. The transformation effect had proceeded beautifully, but Styx had lost control. He'd started so high to give him time to adjust to his new muscles long before he hit the ground, but he careened into a wall and plummeted fifty feet. He'd been too dazed to activate his hawk tattoo in time to slow his descent by much, and he hit hard, breaking several bones. It kept him inactive for months, even with Gor healing.
When he'd recovered physically, his aunt had insisted he try again, but he wouldn't. She pushed, reminding him of the investment she'd put in him, and he rebelled, leaving her behind to seek his future elsewhere.
Dogo had arrived too late to help him. He'd intended to take Styx under his wing and eventually teach him everything he knew, to be the father he'd always wanted to be, but Styx wouldn't work with anyone while in that frame of mind.
But now things were different. Styx had changed. Being caught by Dogo in the Upper Shade a week earlier had put him on a completely different path. The mysterious Prism had clearly affected him, too. And Grim . . . Dogo knew Grim well, and appreciated whatever impact the haunted Fedain had made on Styx. Styx was clearly ready for great things now.
And he flew! Grinning like a madman, the boy flew toward the demon, toward his fears, and Dogo wanted to laugh. He didn't, of course. The demon would soon be coming forward, and Dogo couldn't reveal his position until it passed him. But joy surged within him, pride in Styx's accomplishment at overcoming his fear.
Styx took to the air as if he'd been born to it. He dove with perfect grace, and as soon as the demon gave chase, Styx turned with precision, banking at the perfect angle to bring the demon straight toward the natural archway where Drake and the others waited. Dogo could hear the demon splashing through the water, and then its snarls as it neared his position. He held his breath and readied himself.
As the demon rushed past his position, Dogo dashed forward, kukri leading the way. He slashed out, sharp blade cutting into the flesh of the demon's left hind leg and dragging. The demon stumbled and howled in pain, but before it could round on him, Rega came from the opposite side and stabbed into its right flank.
The demon's momentum kept it moving forward, past six more hidden soldiers who each struck out with their weapons in turn, drawing the demon's blood and adding to its cries of pain. The sixth soldier wasn't as lucky as the rest, coming out a moment too soon, and even as he scored a deep gash at its shoulder, the demon swung its vicious, serpentine maw down and bit him at the neck.
The soldier collapsed without breath to scream, a noxious venom killing him just as quickly as the blood loss. Dogo cursed under his breath as the demon absorbed the lifeforce of the dying soldier, its wounds closing slightly as a result.
But this was not a time to mourn or be disheartened. He and the others in this force needed to press the attack, to keep the demon occupied on its flanks so that its only choice was to keep following Styx. Dogo slashed in again, kukri chopping down at the base of the demon's tail, the only part within his reach. He hacked clean through the tip, showering his face and hands in stinging blood as the dismembered serpentine limb flicked away into a pocket of water. Attached or not, the piece of tail continued to twitch and spasm, trailing blood as it sank to the bottom.
Dogo spared it barely a glance before he wiped his face with his sleeve and stepped after the demon. Rega just ahead of him, attempted to cut into the tail again, but missed as he lost his footing on the slippery ground. Another soldier caught him, and together they advanced as the others continued to harry the demon toward the arch.
Wet stones met Dogo's feet, and he staggered against one of the lichen-covered stalagmites. He started forward again, but a coughing fit seized him, drawing him back against the stone for support. His knees felt weak, and a second later they buckled, collapsing him into the water beside the still-twitching tail. He coughed against the stone, blood splattering against the glowing lichens.
His chest heaved, his legs and arms losing strength with each breath. Turning, he sought the air and saw Styx still moving, flying gracefully toward the arch, the demon still on his heels, though it was paying little attention to him. Styx, beautiful and graceful, was so sure and confident in the plan they'd worked out together.
Dogo turned his back on the stone, leaning against it as he settled down into the pool, finding little reason to fight gravity anymore. He had given that chance to his son. The thought brought a smile to his lips as he closed his eyes and dreamt of a future he would never see.
Styx had never felt freer. The fear fueled his adrenaline, and the demon charging toward him only made him laugh. He banked left and right, drawing the demon through a sure path toward the archway where Drake and the others waited. The anticipation made him grin like a fool.
Only four soldiers seemed to be at the demon's flanks now, but they were doing their job. He couldn't determine who they were in the brief glances he could give them, but they were all being effective. The demon couldn't spare the time to turn around in the narrow spaces available to it, so its only choice was to move forward after Styx.
He didn't know if he was even required as bait anymore, but he would play his part until the end. As he neared the archway, he banked to the right, pumping his wings to lift him to the top of the cavern, then forward around the archway. He dove back down then, putting him in line with the demon's vision so it would see him through the arch.
As the demon approached the arch, Styx risked a glance backward, eager to see the second ambush meet the demon there. Instead, his breath caught, and he nearly swerved into a wall. The demon had disappeared from sight. Did it burrow somehow? Styx wondered as he banked back toward the other half of the chamber.
The soldiers waiting in ambush seemed in a similar state of confusion, their eyes searching for sight of the creature. All it took was one look at Rega and his remaining soldiers to understand what had happened. Their gazes traveled upward with horror. Styx came around the archway again just in time to see the demon pounce from the side of the archway, sharp claws leading snapping jaws as it bore down on Rega and his companions, tearing two to shreds while its jaws clamped down on the Captain directly.
Styx screamed, his voice carrying through the cavern like the screech of an eagle. "Attack! Now!"
The ambush troops moved out of hiding, needing no additional urging after seeing the demon drop on their companions. They poured through the arch with Chanda leading the way. Knife in hand, she ran partially up one of the pillars in order to vault onto the demon's back. Transferring all her momentum into the knife, she stabbed it into the demon's left side.
The six soldiers behind her approached more slowly, but they came on strong with swords and knives, cleaving into the demon's rear with ferocity. Blood sprayed in every direction, and the demon kicked out with its legs, frantically clawing in all directions. The single standing soldier in front of it was trampled by the demon's need to get away, and with a powerful leap it escaped its attackers.
All but Chanda, who continued to ride the demon's back, ducking swipes from the demon's wings as she held onto the dagger embedded in its flesh. Styx followed them, wondering how he could possibly assist. He had not taken a weapon, eagerly shunning the extra weight in favor of his task as bait.
Rega was down, Dogo was nowhere to be seen, and the only one of any rank Styx could see was Chanda, who had no hope of organizing the remaining soldiers. Only four were standing now, and each of them had been hit by the demon's defensive attacks. They watched the running demon, unable to match its speed as it hurtled back the way it had come.
Styx returned to them, perching briefly atop a narrow ridge of stone. "Draw crossbows! Prepare for a ranged battle. I'm going to try and get Chanda to draw it back here."
"How do plan on doin' that?" One of the soldiers asked, a grizzled woman with a long scar down her cheek. "She's barely holdin' on at all."
"I'll think of something!" Styx growled back, then took to the air again, pumping his wings as he passed through the arch to speak with Drake and Lyrae. He found Drake already sliding to the base of the pillar, but Lyrae remained above, furiously hacking at the lichen in front of her.
"What is she doing?" Styx asked, glaring at the woman. "She should be helping us!"
"Calm down, Styx," Drake said, raising a calming hand. He looked Styx up and down appraisingly. "My, Madame Godani sure does good work, doesn't she?"
"This isn't the time for that!" Styx spat. "Chanda needs our help!"
"She's about to get it," Drake said, nodding up to Lyrae. "Just watch."
Styx let Drake draw his gaze upward again and watched as Lyrae finished hacking at the purple lichen in front of her. Anchoring her legs, she cut into her palm with her knife, coating the steel with her blood, then rammed the knife point first into the purple lichen.
Across the chamber, the demon screeched in brutal agony. The ear-piercing sound reverberated off every wall and column, and a thousand birds shrieked in response. The deafening cacophony brought Styx to his knees, hands over his ears to shut out as much as he could.
The sound soon faded, the birds flying as far as they could from the frightening sound threatening their home, and the demon went quiet. He glanced upward to see Lyrae panting, one hand clutched on the dagger with a white-knuckled grip as she steadied herself against the pillar with the other.
"What happened?" Styx asked.
Drake chucked softly and replied, "Those two have a reputation. One is a mage, the other an assassin, and you never know which one is which, no?" Styx nodded, and Drake continued. "The truth of the matter is they are both mages and assassins. They are identical in almost every way and have trained together since infancy. They have the same tattoos under those clothes."
"Which means?" Styx asked, still not understanding.
Drake grinned. "That I once had the honor of the most interesting threesome the Shade has ever seen."
Styx groaned and punched Drake in the arm. "What did they do, Drake?"
"I assume that Chanda had a dagger buried in the demon. Their daggers are linked as surely as everything else, but Lyrae used a blood bonding to increase the potency." Drake considered the dagger above for a moment, his lips pursed in thought. "If I had to guess, I'd say that she stole the poisonous properties of the lichen and transferred it through her dagger to Chanda's, then magnified the effect with both their lifeforces, speeding up the process of the lichen's corrosive effects."
"So, somewhere across this chamber the demon should have a huge hole in its side where Chanda stabbed it?" Styx reasoned. He looked at Lyrae with appreciation and then nodded. "I have to say, that's an impressive display of skill. They must have a thousand different ways of applying that technique."
Drake grinned wide. "Oh, and the applications aren't just for fighting, either."
"I do not need to know about your sex life, Drake," Styx said, shaking his head as he walked toward the center of the arch. "For now, let's gather everyone together and make sure the demon's dead."
"You're right," Drake replied. "We should see to the wounded as well. Maybe not all of them are dead. How are Dogo and Rega?"
Styx winced at the mention of Rega's name. "I don't know about Dogo. I haven't seen him yet, but Rega . . ." Styx sighed and glanced toward the group of soldiers still standing on the other side of the arch. "Last I saw him, he was in the demon's jaws, and I don't think he made it." As the adrenaline faded, worry began to settle in. "Hopefully Dogo is still alive."
Drake put a consoling hand on Styx's shoulder and said gently. "We'll find out, won't we?" He glanced up at Lyrae and added, "Are you coming Lyrae?"
"In a moment," Lyrae shouted from above. "Chanda is inspecting the demon, and she says its still alive. We need to—" she cut off with a scream, clutching at her chest and swaying. The movement jostled her from her anchored position, and she started to fall. Styx flapped his wings and took off with hopes of catching her. Before he could reach Lyrae's position, she fell to the stone beneath, her head catching between two stalagmites as he body continued, landing with a sickening crack and bending her neck awkwardly.
Styx turned to Drake with wide eyes, confused by the strange death he had just witnessed. Before Drake could even open his mouth, the demon roared.
"How . . .?" Drake started to ask, but words failed him as the demon roared again. Loud splashes sounded in the distance, and Drake and Styx turned as one toward the sound. The four standing soldiers turned as well, just in time to raise their crossbows and fire at the demon charging awkwardly toward them on three and a half legs.
The armor-piercing bolts did little to slow the demon's charge as it barreled into the four, its eyes mad with frenzy. A sizeable hole in its flank oozed with blood, but even this was starting to close as Styx watched in horror. The demon attacked each soldier in turn, claws and teeth snatching and tearing. Within seconds, not a one of them was standing.
Styx teetered on the edge of running or fighting, and the hesitation cost him everything. The demon lunged from the last soldier directly to Styx, its hungry jaws snapping at the elusive prey who had brought it so much pain. Styx darted backward, but the demon's foreclaw shot forward. Four sharp pricks dragged him downward, his wings crashing against the stone and breaking as he fell. He cried out in pain and released the tattoo even as he struck, minimizing the damage as much as possible and lying naked beneath the growling demon.
Styx closed his eyes, expecting the demon's teeth to descend on him and tear out his throat, leaving his body with the rest of the dead. The blow never came. Eyes fluttering open, Styx looked up to see Drake's arm buried in the demon's maw to the elbow, sleeve shredded on the demon's teeth. Red blood flowed down that arm in an unnatural pattern, following the spiral of a red tattoo.
The demon seemed confused as it tried to tear Drake's arm off, its teeth seeming to slide away making only shallow cuts instead of piercing down to the bone. Its confusion lasted barely a second as the blood continued swirling down Drake's tattoo. The red ink glowed and then the demon exploded in a shower of blood, scale, and feathers, drenching Styx's naked body from head to toe.
Drake screamed and collapsed forward on top of Styx. It took Styx a moment to clear the blood away from his eyes and mouth so he could breathe and see, then rolled away from Drake as best as he could. He had never felt filthier, and the acrid blood stank like nothing he had ever smelled before. He retched and stumbled toward the nearest pool, burying his face in the water and scrubbing at it with his hands as much as he could.
The blood was sticky, but with a bit of scrub he was able to clear most of it away from his face and hair before coming up for breath. He wanted to jump into the pool and scrub the rest of it away, but first he glanced back at Drake who lay in the demon's blood, screaming in agony and clutching at an arm which was no longer there.
"What happened?" Styx asked, choking on the words. He spat a wad of blood into the pool and retched again. The retching quickly became a cough and more blood projected from his throat. He wiped his mouth as well as he could with the back of his hand and asked again, "Drake, what happened?"
Styx walked back to Drake's side, momentarily forcing his focus away from the blood still coating every inch of him. He crouched down beside his old guildmate and inspected the wound. Drake's arm was simply gone, a cauterized stump remaining in its place. Despite the relative cleanliness of the wound, there was no doubt from looking at Drake's face that he'd felt the loss of his arm as if it had been cut with a rusty saw.
"Drake," Styx said soothingly. He glanced around quickly and for the first time he realized he was the only one standing. Are we the only ones left? The thought brought the fear thundering back to Styx, and he struggled to remain calm as he returned his gaze to Drake. "Drake, I need you to . . . is there anything I can . . ." he couldn't find the right words to say, and fear seized control. "Drake! Get it together! It's just you and me now!" he gripped Drake's shoulder and shook him roughly to get his attention.
Drake blinked back tears in his one good eye and stared at Styx through an agonized grimace. "Styx . . ." he said after a moment. "You're okay? I thought the demon . . ." he let out a pained chuckle that quickly became a whimper.
"I don't know if I'm okay," Styx said, glancing down at his blood-covered body. "I think so . . . but no one else is. It's just us, Drake. You and I need to get out of here."
"How?" Drake asked, raising his stump. "I can't climb. Are you going to find some rope and lower me down the way we came up? We don't have enough rope to make it. I think you're going to have to get out on your own."
Styx stared at Drake, his eyes narrowing as he found resolve from somewhere. "No, I'm not going to just abandon you. You just saved my life. I'm going to see if there are any other survivors. Hang tight, okay?"
Drake nodded numbly and shifted out of the puddle of gore, leaning up against the inside of the arch. "That wasn't the way the tattoo was supposed to work. It was supposed to absorb the demon's life force and feed it into me."
"It must have been too much," Styx said gently. He eyed the stump and shuddered. "Maybe it overloaded it?"
"No," Drake said. "It was a gift from a girl who blamed me for her father's death. Apparently she didn't appreciate becoming guildmaster that way as much as she said." He devolved into another fit of whimpering chuckles.
Styx stared at him dumbly before turning away. He walked to Lyrae's body first. Her neck was definitely broken, but her body appeared otherwise intact. He was about to move past her when he noticed the cloth covering her upper body was torn in several places. He tore off a long piece and returned to the nearby pool, soaking the cloth.
As he moved through the arch toward the rest of the dead or dying soldiers, he scrubbed at his body with the wet cloth, trying to remove as much of the blood as possible. The cloth removed less than he'd hoped, as the sticky blood remained persistent. By the time he reached the first set of soldiers, he'd already given up on the process and discarded the cloth entirely.
None of the first four were alive. He could tell that from the placement of their wounds even before he knelt over them. They wore almost as much blood as he did, the demon's sharp claws cutting clean through their leather armor. He checked two more and grew hopeful on one until he noticed the large gash on the back of his head. This one had been trampled against one of the stalagmites.
The next group included Rega, his body torn at the chest and shoulder. His wounds didn't look quite bad enough to have killed him, but his mouth was frozen in a pained rictus, eyes staring wide at the cavern ceiling. The poison. Styx nodded as he looked over the rest of them. According to Dogo's initial report, it had a deadly venom. How many will I find dead with superficial wounds? Is Rega the only one? Where is Dogo?
Styx continued forward, then stopped and turned back the way he came. He sprinted for Drake, barely keeping his footing on the stone slick with water and blood. When he arrived, Drake gave him a quizzical look and asked, "Something the matter? You look like you expected to see another corpse."
"I did," Styx said breathlessly. He regained control of his breathing quickly and went on. "Your arm was in its mouth. It's venomous. I know you're a mongoose, but . . ." he shrugged helplessly.
"But demonic poison is different," Drake finished the thought with a pained sigh. "Well, other than the searing pain of not having an arm, I don't feel anything else. Maybe when my arm exploded it took the poison with it?"
Styx nodded. "We can hope that. There are still a few unaccounted for, but I haven't made it all the way to the first ambush spot yet."
"Dogo?" Drake asked.
Styx grimaced and glanced farther ahead. "Not yet . . . Rega though. All of his soldiers are dead by my estimation, though I think there are still two farther back. It's possible one of them is alive but . . . I wouldn't place any bets on it."
Drake nodded solemnly and rose shakily to his feet. He took a step forward and waited for Styx to join him. As they walked toward their comrades, Drake continued in a soft voice, "Let's hope Dogo is better off. And we don't know about Chanda either, although . . ." he trailed off glancing back at Lyrae's corpse.
"I agree," Styx said, following Drake's gaze. "I doubt Chanda's alive. Judging by the demon's rage, I wouldn't be surprised if we found her torn in half." He shuddered at the thought and added, "I've seen plenty of dead in my short life, but this is going to give me nightmares for the rest of it."
Drake smiled, but it faded in an instant when he tried to raise an arm he no longer had. "I can't say I disagree. We needed an army twice this size, and probably better equipment. Maybe we could've scouted better, maybe we could've . . ." he shook his head with a pained grimace. "No, it's useless to speculate. The demon almost got us both. Who's to say it wouldn't have killed a dozen more soldiers? It could heal so quickly . . ."
"I think they heal when they kill," Styx said. "Sort of like Fedain, they do something with lifeforce."
"I would love a Fedain right now," Drake said, and this time he did chuckle, though there was little mirth in it. "I doubt they could do anything about my arm, but I'd love to have one try."
They made their way through the corpses, pausing at Rega briefly before continuing. They found each of the twelve soldiers under Rega's command and Chanda's broken body before they reached Dogo. Styx was ready to sick up again at the sight of all the dead when he noticed Dogo was still breathing. He sprinted the rest of the distance.
"Dogo?" Styx said, slipping into the pool next to the man and gently shaking him. Dogo stirred slightly, and Styx shook him harder. "Dogo! Are you okay?"
Dogo's eyes fluttered open, and he stared at Styx in confusion. "Who are you? I recognize your voice, but . . . my eyes aren't working."
"It's me. It's Styx," Styx said urgently. "Are you okay?"
Dogo lifted his hand, it shook with effort as it sought Styx's flesh, then grimaced as it touched the sticky blood covering nearly every inch of him. "I'm dying, Styx . . . what is all over you?"
"The demon . . . its blood is everywhere," Styx explained, initially denying Dogo's words to focus on the question. Then the import of Dogo's statement sank in. "You're dying? No . . . you can't do that. You're the only one left other than me and Drake."
"Hush now, Styx," Dogo said. "I don't know how much time I have, and I need to tell you something important. You need to find someone to heal you. The best one you can find. I was poisoned by contact with the demon's blood when I first faced it. You're covered in it, so I'm sure you're infected. You need to get out of here."
Styx stiffened with denial as each word left Dogo's mouth. His present state notwithstanding, he felt fine. Dogo, on the other hand, was clearly ill and needed immediate help. "Let's focus on getting you some of that healing, huh? Drake, help me get him out of here."
Drake eyed Styx skeptically but hooked his good arm under Dogo's right shoulder and lifted as Styx lifted from below. It took them several tries to free Dogo's dead weight from the pool, but eventually Drake had him on the edge and dragged him away to solid ground.
Styx remained in the pool, using the opportunity to clean the blood off his skin more thoroughly. He wished Kirra was there to wash his hair. Where did that thought come from? Styx wondered, blushing despite being alone in the pool. He had just survived a horrific ordeal, was surrounded by the dead, and he was thinking about his day in the baths of all things.
He missed Kirra, certainly, but this was not the time to be thinking about him. He needed a plan to get both Dogo and Drake to safety and healing. Maxthane could probably heal Dogo. He was part Fedain, after all. Maxthane's company would be great, too. Someone who would understand all the complicated emotions going through his head.
Styx growled at himself for thinking of yet another person who could not help him now. He needed his priorities straight. Scrubbing vigorously, he removed all but the most stubborn traces of blood remaining on his skin and forced the thoughts of his lovers away with equal fervor.
He then searched his body for wounds. He still had four minor punctures from the demon's claws on his arms but transforming as the demon struck him had deflected the attack in some ways. Now that the adrenaline was fading, he ached all over. By transforming he had spared himself severe damage, but it had transferred a general weakness to his entire body, which he now felt more than ever.
With a sigh, he started to climb out of the pool, but then noticed something gleaming in the water—Dogo's kukri. He reached down and took it in his hand, drawing it from the water for his inspection. This was Dogo's trademark weapon as much as his bolas. It had served him in so many ways over the years, but it could not keep sickness at bay.
Styx caught his reflection in the soft green light illuminating the polished steel. Dogo had well cared for this weapon, despite the appearance of age on both the blade and hilt. It didn't deserve to be left behind here. Unlike the dead, Styx could do something about the kukri.
He climbed out of the pool at last and headed back to Drake and Dogo. Drake had leaned Dogo up against another stalagmite and stood over him with a concerned expression. Styx took note of Dogo's soaked clothing and Drake's state of disarray and said, "I'm going to go back for the supplies we left near the entrance. We need to start a fire to keep Dogo warm, and I need my clothes."
Drake looked up sharply. "No, you stay here. I'll go."
"You can't climb . . ." Styx protested, but stopped when Drake held up his hand to stall him.
"Styx, I'll manage," Drake insisted. "It'll take me a little longer, but the supplies are in easy reach. I'll get them, and you need to stay," he glanced down at Dogo briefly before retuning a grim look to Styx.
Styx's brow furrowed in confusion. "Why—"
"Just . . ." Drake interrupted, glancing at Dogo one more time before returning his gaze to Styx and holding it there. For a moment, the painted eye on his eyepatch seemed almost as pitying as his good one. "Just stay, Styx, by the shadows, just stay."
Styx nodded and watched Drake go until Dogo coughed and said hoarsely, "Styx?"
"Dogo," Styx said, crouching next to his father. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I'm breathing my own blood instead of air," Dogo said, then coughed again. "I probably am."
Styx put a gentle hand on Dogo's shoulder. "We're going to get you out of here."
"Son," Dogo said firmly. "Son, stop. Drake left because—" a hacking cough interrupted whatever he'd been about to say, and bright spots of blood landed on Dogo's lips. When he'd finished coughing, he said, "I'm dying, son. Please, let me tell you a few things."
Styx growled in response. "I refuse to believe that."
"Well, whether you believe it or not, I'll be gone in the next few minutes, by my best guess," Dogo said, sighing. He tried to move his hand, but it barely lifted at all. "Reach into my belt pouch," he added weakly.
Styx complied and pulled out several coins and an iron key. He raised the key to the light. "What is this for?" he asked.
"It’s the key to my house in Pentalus," Dogo replied, "between the baker and the clockworks in the Nobak square. It's yours now. Beneath it is an access point to The Shade which very few people know about. It leads to the pillar on the island in the Black Lake."
"You'll have to show it to me," Styx said firmly.
"Your mother is still alive, Styx," Dogo said. "She lives in Pentalus, and she'll be able to answer some questions for you."
Styx's body tensed at the news. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"I'd hoped to make the introductions myself, but . . ." Dogo chuckled, which soon became another coughing fit. When it subsided, he continued. "That isn't an option anymore. She is the leader of the Pentalus resistance. They call her the Dark Mother. Ask for a man named Kimbler at the tavern across from my house. Tell him I sent you. He will lead you to her."
"You can lead me there yourself," Styx replied.
"Son!" Dogo snapped. Another cough. More blood. "That isn't going to happen. You have to get Drake and yourself to a healer as soon as possible. You might even need a Fedain to heal you of this illness."
"Maxthane could . . ." Styx began, but would Maxthane be strong enough? If the sickness was this intense, he might need a full Fedain. Thankfully, he had met two of those. "No, I can do better than that. I know the best healer in the region. If I can get you there—"
"You need to see a Fedain as soon as possible," Dogo interrupted. "Promise me you will. You're in grave danger, Styx. The demon's blood . . ." he shook his head slightly, but it was all he could manage. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he coughed once, hard. His hand found a sudden surge of strength, and he took Styx's hand in his, squeezing it once. "Promise me you'll find Grim or another Fedain."
Styx felt the weight of those words. This was Dogo's dying wish, and as much as Styx wanted to deny that death, he could not deny the urgency behind Dogo's request. "I promise," he said softly.
"Good," Dogo said, releasing Styx's hand. "Good . . ." he said deliriously, another cough seizing him. His voice grew quieter with each word. "You're going to be all right, my son. I'm proud of what you did today. You flew . . . I knew you had it in you . . ." his head rolled to the side, his neck losing strength. "I . . . always hoped . . ."
"Dogo?" Styx said, shaking him gently, but Dogo didn't move.
There was no response but the fluttering of wings above, and the sound of water flowing without concern for the dead. The Watchdog of the Shade had found his final place in a cavern of light and death.
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