Lonely Pride

Chapter 7

By Cynus

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Captain Rega assembled a team of a dozen soldiers within minutes of Maxthane leaving him. He didn't bother consulting with Commander Krythe on the matter, a point Styx filed away for safekeeping. As soon as he sent for the soldiers, he directed nearby servants to retrieve packs of provisions for each of them. Shortly thereafter, the group departed for their hunt by way of Madame Godani's Guildhall with enough supplies to last them four days carried between them all.

Styx watched Dogo as they walked, finding his silence unnerving. The only sound Dogo made at all was the occasional cough, after which his face would contort into a sickening frown. Styx wanted to ask him a dozen questions. About why Dogo had allowed him to leave The Shade with Prism nearly a week earlier. About whether he knew where Grim was. About the dangers they faced now . . . All of these weighed on Styx's mind, but yet Styx could not find the right words to voice them.

Eventually, Dogo caught him looking, and his frown became a grin. "Are you trying to peer into my soul, Styx?" He asked.

Styx blushed, embarrassed. "No, just . . . wondering a few things. You're not quite what I expected when I used to hear tales of you."

"Oh?" Dogo asked. He shared a bemused look with Rega. "What tales have you heard of me?"

"When I was a child, it was well known in the Inkblades that you were the best bounty hunter in The Shade. That was how they spoke of you, that you always got your prey," Styx said slowly. "It wasn't until I ended up as a gladiator that I found out you spent time there. That you led them once."

Dogo nodded. "It makes sense that Fau Shae would want me remembered that way, instead of as a gladiator. She always did have a fondness for me, and despite her willingness to use it, she doesn't care much for violence. At least, no more than the average Shadeling."

"When you let . . ." Styx trailed off, turning a wary eye on Rega. He didn't want to incriminate Dogo by talking about their last encounter, when Dogo had let Styx walk out of The Shade. "When we last spoke, you implied that you and Madame Godani were close, but I didn't realize you called her by her first name. Few people do."

"Aye, that's true," Rega interjected. "Even when we were all young, as soon as she became guild leader, she insisted on her title. Said if she didn't, no man would respect her. As if any man would dare to disrespect her. Her and her sister . . ."

"Her what?" Styx asked, his eyes narrowing. "What do you mean by 'her sister'?"

Dogo shot Rega a dark look. "Oh, nothing," Rega said quickly. "Just a friend of hers, someone who has nothing to do with you."

"You remain the most horrible liar The Shade has ever seen," Dogo spat. "It's no wonder you became a guard instead of an honorable thief like the rest of us."

"You're not even a Shadeling," Rega replied testily. "You got no room to talk about Shade secrets."

Styx glowered at both men. "Will someone please tell me what you're talking about?

Dogo's glare lingered on Rega for a moment longer before he turned back to Styx with a tired smile. "If I promise to talk about it while we're on our way, could you wait until after we stop in at the Guildhall?"

Styx hesitated, then nodded. "If you promise."

"I swear by my shadow, I do," Dogo replied solemnly. "It's about time you learned things anyway."

"See?" Rega said. "There's no place for secrets where family's concerned."

Styx's eyes widened at that, but before he could say anything, Dogo full on punched Rega shoulder, sending him staggering backward several feet. "I told you to keep quiet. This is not your secret to speak on. You hear me telling secrets of you and Salidar?"

Rega stiffened at that and shook his head. "You hold your tongue, and I'll hold mine."

Styx stared bewildered at both men but chose to hold his tongue. He sensed that if he pushed the matter right now it would devolve into a physical altercation leaving one of the men too injured to speak, depriving him of answers. They didn't have to wait long until they arrived at Madame Godani's Guildhall anyway, and Dogo had promised him answers afterward. That would have to be enough.

When they arrived, Styx was only partially surprised to find the Inkblades had expected them. Because of the presence of Rega and his soldiers, they went to the front door instead of the secret passage on the side of the structure used by guild members. This meant, of course, that the moment they arrived, heavy crossbows aimed at them from the shadows. Styx doubted he would be in any danger, but he didn't want to see his temporary allies become pin cushions either.

Madame Godani herself greeted them at the doorway. "Dogo, when you said it was urgent, I expected you to be back sooner than now. Are you getting old?"

Dogo flashed her a disarming smile. "I was always old, Fau Shae," he replied, "Though I always prefer 'experienced' over 'old'."

Madame Godani's face remained as expressionless as ever, though her eyes twinkled a bit in the low light of the mage lamps that decorated her hall. "I was able to find a few volunteers for you," she announced even as soft footsteps sounded in the hallway behind her. Two women and one man walked out into the room. Styx knew them all well.

The man was the middle-aged Drake Iskari, whose head was shaved, and he bore an eyepatch over his left eye, the painted image of a flaming red eye adorned it. It contrasted well with the bright blue of his right eye. He had a long-handled knife tucked into his belt, and a heavy crossbow across his back. The back of his left hand was uncovered, revealing a tattoo in a swirling red pattern. Dark leather and cloth covered the rest of his body.

The two women wore very similar clothing to Drake, though one wore more leather than he, and the other wore less, favoring a formfitting but flexible black cloth while reserving leather for her more vital areas. The two women were twins, a decade older than Styx who had joined the guild when he was a boy. One was a skilled mage, the other an assassin, though they always worked together so no one knew which twin excelled at which job. Neither wore any obvious weapons aside from a simple knife. They kept their hair and most of their skin concealed, leaving only their identical pairs of gold-flecked brown eyes visible. Lyrae and Chanda, two of Madame Godani's most favored operatives.

"Styx!" Drake said enthusiastically, walking over and clapping Styx on the shoulder. "Are you joining us on this fool's mission?" He eyed Dogo warily. "This seems a bit dangerous for you."

Behind him, Madame Godani stiffened visibly. Before she could say anything, Dogo fixed her with a stare that spoke volumes, though Styx could not interpret the meaning. "He can come if he wants to," Dogo said firmly. "He's been through enough recently, I wouldn't worry about him. He has experience now."

"Why would either of you worry about me?" Styx asked. "It's my decision whether I go or not. Even if you were my parents, I'm a man and have been for years."

Madame Godani nodded slowly. "I suppose you are," she said with a thin-lipped smile. "Unfortunately, I can't spare any more resources. There is something happening in The Shade, though I can't tell what just yet. Something that will test the guilds."

"Is that something your intelligence network tells you, or just instinct?" Rega asked, his eyes narrowing.

"Just instinct," Madame Godani replied. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be so worried."

Rega nodded to her wisdom. "Maybe I should stay . . ."

He trailed off as Dogo placed a hand on his arm. "Whatever it is, it can wait a few days. I promise you, this other matter . . ." He shook his head solemnly, "it cannot. This demon, there's something about it. I can tell, if we don't handle it, it's going to kill us all."

"I've heard that before," Madame Godani replied dryly. Dogo shot her a dark look and she raised up her hands defensively before adding, "But I trust your instincts as well, Dogo. It's why I agreed to give you three of my best. If it's really so urgent, however, why are you still here?"

Dogo bowed to her, the action triggering a cough. He hacked for a long moment before he could respond to the awkward stares in the room. "You're right. Let's go, everyone." He turned on his heel and walked from the guildhall, everyone but Styx trailing after him.

Styx met Madame Godani's eyes and held her gaze for several seconds until the last of his companions left them alone. "Why didn't you tell me you had a sister?" he asked quietly.

Madame Godani's eyes widened at the question. It was the first time Styx had seen her so unsettled in his entire life. She glanced briefly toward the door, and Styx wondered if she was considering which of the others she had to kill for leaking the information. When her eyes came back to Styx's, she had regained some of her composure. "Who told you?" She asked dangerously.

"I think I have a right to know who my mother is," Styx said bitterly.

"Dogo . . ." she said softly. "Dogo told you."

"What would that have to do with anything?" Styx asked, though he stored that thought away for later. It would require more analysis, but he already formed several theories. "And, no . . . I figured that part out on my own. I learned that you had a sister today, and the shadows revealed their secrets. You and I look alike, but you've always insisted you were not my mother. I believed you, and now it makes sense. You're my aunt instead, and for some reason you don't want me to know about my mother."

Madame Godani nodded slowly, her lips curling into a thin smile. "You've figured it out. I donít know who told you I had a sister, but you must understand, it is something you cannot speak about out in The Shade. There was an . . . arrangement. Ask Dogo for more details. I suppose you do have a right to know, after all."

"We'll talk more when I get back," Styx promised, maintaining her gaze a moment longer, before turning to follow Dogo and the others at last.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The group traveled in silence on their way to the outer wall of The Shade. They crossed three of the streams which fed the black lake, each one sending a slight shiver down Styx's spine as he followed their path with his eyes. It had been less than a week since he'd walked the edge of the Black Lake himself, and seeing the dark waters reminded him of the vicious things living within.

He'd had enough of things lurking in unseen places, of secrets and their dangers. He'd had enough, and now wanted to clarify more of them. When he looked at Dogo, however, he couldn't bring himself to say anything. After confirming his mother's identity, Styx had already set several pieces in place. He feared the truth as much as he feared the doubt, and he wavered.

Eventually the group arrived at the edge of The Shade, where a small rivulet drained from the wall and flowed down toward the Black Lake. The source of the water was a small opening, large enough for a man to fit through in a crouch. Rega drew up the group and eyed the opening skeptically.

"This route doesn't look accessible," he said after a moment.

"It wasn't until I came through it," Dogo said dryly. He quickly found a foothold in the wall and climbed up to the mouth of the opening, perching with one leg inside as he looked down at the others.

"So, you discovered a new way out of The Shade?" Drake asked, his eyes filled with a familiar look. Opportunity, the powerhouse of The Shade.

"Only to another chamber, and it's a long way up. The way up from that is blocked now, remember?" Dogo replied, shaking his head. "If you're thinking of using this as a smuggling hold, you'll soon learn it's inconvenient."

Rega nodded as if Dogo's explanation had been for him, and he turned to two of their companions, a middle-aged man and woman, dressed in light clothes as opposed to the armor of the soldiers surrounding them. The two mages Maxthane had suggested Rega take with them. "The two of you know what to do?"

"We'll be testing the water, as King Maxthane asked," the woman replied. "Though I don't see how this one little stream is going to make much of a difference to The Shade. It should be diluted by the Black Lake enough to keep everyone safe. All we have to do is quarantine the stream itself."

"Why don't you find out how bad it is first and then make that decision," Dogo said.

The man gave him a dark look. "You don't command us, Dogo."

"I do, and you'll do as Dogo says," Rega said. "And as the King decreed."

Dogo spoke as if the matter had been settled already, "Let's go. We don't want to lose any more time." He swung his other leg into the opening and started in.

Styx paused for only a moment before he hurried up to follow Dogo. He found the tunnel cramped, but not so much that he felt confined. Dogo had already made it a good distance upward, and Styx hurried to follow as Rega climbed up after him.

Despite intermittent coughing fits, Dogo pressed on tirelessly, leading them ever upward. The ascent was grueling over slick rock worn smooth over centuries with water trickling over it. At times the ceiling closed in on them, making them move at a crawl instead of a crouch, but eventually these narrow areas widened again letting the climbers breathe easily.

As they moved, Styx alternated his focus between his handholds and the questions raging in his mind. He watched Dogo carefully when able, noticing the way he moved. There were many similarities between the two of them. Too many to ignore. Styx moved as if Dogo had been leading him his entire life.

Hours after the beginning of their ascent, the tunnel widened to a space large enough for their entire group. Dogo paused for only a moment to make sure everyone caught up with him, then started toward the other end of the chamber.

Before he'd gone more than a few feet, Rega called out softly, "It's time to break for a meal. The soldiers are hungry."

Dogo nodded, turning back toward Rega. "I'll scout ahead for a bit, get my bearings, and eat up there. When you're done, head up after me."

Styx felt as tired as the rest of the group, but he saw the opportunity to speak privately with Dogo and said, "I'll go with you."

Dogo met his eyes, his face expressionless. "If you wish."

Without another word, Dogo resumed his climb, and Styx followed him, gritting his teeth in anger. Fifteen minutes later, Dogo finally pulled up against a wall, breathing heavily as he swung his pack into his lap. His skin clammy and a cough seizing him, he glanced apologetically at Styx before opening his pack and withdrawing his rations.

Styx swung his own pack over his shoulder but paused before withdrawing his food. "Are you going to talk to me?" he asked after a moment.

"I haven't been ignoring you, Styx. I expected your questions, you've just been silent," Dogo said before tearing off a piece of bread.

"That's all you have to say, huh?" Styx asked, growling as opened his rations. Fish, mushrooms, and lichen bread, the same as everyone else had. He dug into the fish, tearing off a piece and thrusting it into his mouth and chewing angrily.

Dogo laughed. "Until you ask me a question, yeah."

Styx swallowed hard and stared at him. Opportunity. He wouldn't have many like this one. "Are you my father?"

"Straight out with it, I see," Dogo said, his eyes dancing with delight. "I like that. I'd have thought you'd cling to the shadows a bit more. You've grown in the last while. Not as overly cautious as you used to be." He smiled sadly, a tightness surrounding his features. "Yes. I'm your father. For all the good that does you. For all the harm that causes."

"Good? Harm? What are you talking about?" Styx said incredulously. His eyes as sharp as his voice, he asked, "Why have you kept this from me?"

Dogo sighed heavily. "We had our reasons."

"Why did you abandon me?" Styx asked.

"I didn't. Neither did your mother. That's the point, Styx," Dogo replied almost casually. The matter-of-fact tone irritated Styx. "Your mother owed Salidar a . . . a favor. After she gave birth to you, and marked you as hers with your name," Dogo reached up and stroked the hawk tattoo on Styx's face. Styx was initially so shocked, he let it happen until he finally pulled away and Dogo continued, "she gave herself up to him. Shortly after that, I learned that her favor left her crippled and dying, and I tried to kill Salidar. That meant I spent a decade as Salidar's prisoner, a gladiator in his service."

Styx digested the information for several minutes, saying nothing as he returned his focus to his food. After seeing no more questions would be immediately forthcoming, Dogo resumed eating as well.

Eventually, Styx broke the silence again. "That doesn't explain why you didn't tell me."

"Because your aunt is pragmatic. She didn't want to raise you to rebel against Salidar. She didn't want to instill revenge, to make you hate your parents for not being there, to make you hate the King for taking them from you . . ." Dogo explained, then, seeing Styx was still confused he came at it from a different angle. "She knew you'd have our wills, and that you'd want to avenge the wrongs to your family. Now that Salidar's dead . . . I guess it doesn't matter, does it?"

"But you've defended Salidar to me!" Styx protested.

"Yes. And I would many times again," Dogo replied. "Salidar didn't know what would happen to your mother. That wasn't his fault. Salidar could've killed me outright, but he didn't. He gave me a chance to live and eventually earn his trust again. For all the wrong he's done, he's made up for it as far as I'm concerned."

Styx rolled his eyes at that. "I still think you could've told me. You could've trusted me to not take on Salidar. I'm not an idiot, you know."

"Styx, I barely know you," Dogo said forcefully, "But I know enough to see that you're too much like me to stop yourself."

"I'm like you?" Styx asked, eyebrows raised.

"I've observed you since I exited Salidar's service. You spent years as a loner, because you didn't like being told what to do by your aunt. Then, as soon as you got caught, you found your way free but discovered it was a lot easier when you worked with people. Others helped you, and you helped them in return, because it's important to help those you care about. Why else are you here?"

"Because Maxthane didn't want me there," Styx replied.

"Fair enough, I suppose," Dogo said, "but I think it's deeper than that. Ever since you started fighting demons, you decided there were more important things than riches and even survival." A wide grin crossed his face. "You might be surprised as to how similar our paths have been, and I think it's because we see the world the same way."

"Am I like my mother, too?" Styx asked hopefully. As the words left his mouth, he became aware of movement below them and glanced down to see Rega's head appear in the tunnel beneath them.

"You certainly look more like her than this old bastard," Rega said, nodding toward Dogo as he joined them in the narrow tunnel. He looked Styx up and down and winked lecherously. "Which makes you a sight more attractive in my book."

"Rega . . ." Dogo said dangerously, "you are not going to seduce my son."

"Why not?" Rega asked, grinning at Styx. "He's of age, and I already know he has good tastes."

"I'm flattered, Rega, but you're a little old for me . . ." Styx said, suppressing a shudder. "No offense."

"None taken," Rega said, barking a laugh. "But you can't blame a lonely man for trying."

"Lonely?" Dogo scoffed. "Don't tell me you're still holding out for a dead man."

"You'd speak ill of him now? You just praised him a moment ago," Rega said.

"He didn't see fit to treat you right while you were in love. He had his good points, but with you, he . . ." Dogo trailed off, sighing. "You deserved better than what you got."

Rega shifted uncomfortably. "He had a position to protect. I got what he could give me."

Styx looked between the two men, his eyes widening with each word. He settled on Rega and said softly, "You and Salidar . . ."

Rega snorted and looked at Dogo. "Your boy pays too much attention for his own good."

"If I could figure it out in two words from your mouth, I'm not surprised he can," Dogo replied, chuckling. "If you remember, when we were all young men, I guessed too." His chuckle broke into a cough, and Rega and Styx regarded him with concern.

"Wonder how many others know . . ." Rega said quietly.

Dogo shook his head firmly. "None, I imagine. Salidar was careful even if you weren't. Any thoughts they might've had would've been pure speculation. Hard to make a case from just speculation. Thieves are too careful to act without a good bet on their side. You don't risk pickpocketing someone if you donít know they're carrying coin."

"I suppose there's somethin' to that," Rega replied. "Anyway, the soldiers ought to be done eatin' now. We should get moving."

"We'll go back and get them then," Dogo said. "I'm eager to get this done, same as you."

"Aye, but that's not necessary. I told them to start up in a few minutes. They'll be here soon. Still, I'll head back and drive 'em on."

"We're not done, Dogo," Styx said when Rega turned back down the tunnel. "You have a lot to tell me."

"That I do, Styx. I don't deny it. I owe you an explanation, and I've every intention of giving you one. Maybe you'll never see me as a father, and it's no less than I deserve, but I'd like the opportunity to teach you who I am if you'll give it."

"We'll see." Styx hastily finished the last few bites of his meal. As he was cleaning up, he asked, "One thing that I've always wondered, though . . ."

"Yeah?"

"How the hell can you see down here? You don't have a Shadesight tattoo," Styx said.

"Not on my face, no," Dogo replied, grinning at the unexpected question. "It's against Incarian custom to wear tattoos anywhere on the face, anywhere visible, really, but I've got one, same as you. But . . ." he leaned forward and whispered, "I also have one no one knows about. I've the nose of a hunting hound, another gift of blood ink. That's why they call me the Watchdog, you know, they know I can smell 'em, they just don't know why."

"You like to keep people in the dark, don't you?" Styx said, hoping Dogo would feel the bite of his double entendre.

Whether Dogo felt it or not, he merely grinned wider. "Is there anywhere safer?"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Damn! It collapsed after me!" Dogo exclaimed abruptly as the ascent slowed to a halt. The tunnel had widened as they'd ascended, though the ceiling remained low. Styx peered around Dogo as best he could and saw that the way was blocked by a large pile of rubble. There were several cracks around the edges, but not wide enough for a man to fit through, though perhaps a child could.

"Time for some of your Incarian magic, Dogo," Rega said, sliding up beside Styx.

"Won't do us any good." Dogo sighed heavily. "It's not . . . magic, like I said before. It's targeted explosives, small scale. I was able to blow my way through here last time, but it looks like the roof collapsed in after . . . I could try to blow those boulders apart, let the stream take the dust down like before, but I might bring the whole tunnel down on top of us if it was loose enough to collapse like this."

"It's all right, I have at least four people with slippers back here," Rega said, grinning. "We'll get past this, don't you worry."

"Slippers?" Dogo asked.

Rega stared at him in disbelief. "Don't tell me you've never heard the term, Dogo."

"Nope."

Styx jumped in, eager to prove useful. "People who can slip into tight places. It's a common ink. Usually snake blood, but there are others."

"Aye, that's it," Rega said. "We can get some people on the other side, leverage up the loose rock and clear the passage well enough. Won't take more than an hour at most by my estimation, depending on how far back it goes."

"I'll help from this side then," Dogo said.

Rega snorted derisively. "You rest. You're looking awful. And you," he took Styx in with a glance, "strong as you are, stay with him. He's more likely to stay if it's you who's keeping an eye on him."

"You got it," Styx said, sliding backward to give Dogo space to join him, which he did with surprisingly little protest. He looked worse than ever now, his face covered in sweat. Dark marks appeared on his skin, though Styx couldn't tell what was dirt and what might by symptomatic of illness.

Rega organized his soldiers, directing several of them to use their tattoos to slip through the child-sized spaces at the edges of the rubble. A short time later, the soldiers moved the stones in concert, passing them down the line to pile them neatly at the edges of the tunnel.

"Rega's a good man," Dogo said after several minutes of this. "People in Pentalus fear Shades, even more than those in the Everbright City do. They shouldn't. There's more order here than there is above. People more concerned for the welfare of their neighbors . . . we may take from each other often, may compete for resources as much as they or even more, but we take care of our own."

"You're an outsider here. Can your opinion of us really be trusted?" Styx asked dryly.

"Us? As if I'm not one of you now . . ." Dogo chuckled and then coughed. "I've been here since before I was your age. The better part of thirty years now. I've maintained ties with my homeland, of course, but I'm as much a Shade as anyone now. But you're right about me being an outsider too. However, that's what allows me to see The Shade for what it is. This is a place of people judged too quickly."

"Kirra said something similar," Styx said softly.

"Kirra?" Dogo echoed.

"My . . ." Styx thought of Maxthane, "one of my lovers."

"Ah . . ." Dogo's grin warmed Styx. "What can you tell me about this, Kirra?"

"He's a Knight of the Firmament," Styx deadpanned.

"Now that's something you'd never expect to hear in The Shade!" Dogo said, clapping Styx on the shoulder enthusiastically. "Your lovers are a Knight and the Shadowking? You've done well for yourself."

"I'd have thought you would disapprove of me courting a Knight," Styx said incredulously.

"Why?" Dogo asked. "Styx, whatever you think of me . . . you must think me terrible for what we've done to you, and, like I said before, that's within your rights, but I'm sure I'd approve of whomever you love. A man can't control his heart."

Styx bit his lip thoughtfully. "Did you love my mother?"

"Yes. Without a doubt," Dogo replied. "If you think anything other than love would've driven me to the madness of trying to kill Salidar, you're madder than I am."

Styx smiled despite himself. "That makes sense."

"So, tell me more about Kirra, and get me up to date on what you've been doing since I last saw you," Dogo insisted.

As the boulders continued to pass them by, Styx spoke of all the things that had transpired over the past week. He spoke fondly of Maxthane and Kirra, and with respect for Grim and Prism. Dogo asked enough questions to show interest but was content to listen for the most part.

Styx found it was easy to talk to Dogo, and a bond slowly formed between them. After he was done recounting his recent adventures and Dogo's questions had dwindled, he made one more request of his father. "Tell me about my mother."

"Certainly," Dogo said softly. "She's . . ." he trailed off as Rega returned to them.

"Dogo, we're through," he announced.

Dogo clapped Styx on the shoulder and said, "Next time we stop, I'll tell you all about her. I don't have enough energy to climb and speak."

Styx nodded and smiled. "I understand."

Dogo moved back to the front of the line, Styx staying on his heels. Past the rubble, the tunnel took a sharp turn upward, and Dogo suddenly stood straight, looking up into the gloom. He turned back to his companions and said, "Past this point, we're going to be climbing straight up for a while. Everyone watch your step, it'll be slick!"

Placing his hands on the wall, Dogo started upward, and Styx fell in behind him. As he watched Dogo climb, the similarities between them became apparent once again. Styx had a father, someone to show him how to step, and finally his path seemed a little more certain.




Author's Note:

Thank you for reading "Lonely Pride"! If you enjoyed this story, please check out my other stories at my homepage, or check out some of the works written by the other amazing authors hosted here. You won't be disappointed.

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