Someone, it seemed, had left a shard of glass lodged in his skull. A deep lance of pain pierced him from the back of his head, driving downward to acquaint itself with his toes. He tried to raise his hands to feel for damage, but although they seemed to rest comfortably on the arms of a chair, they would not move. Trying further, he found he could not move his limbs at all.
I am paralyzed, Borænin thought bleakly. Someone pummeled me on the head so hard that I am now a cripple. Slowly, he cracked an eye open. What he saw did not at first illuminate any mysteries. A stone room, windowless. A staircase ascended on the opposite wall. A basement, perhaps, he thought. Then he realized there were no lamps lit, yet he could see, a soft blue and violet glow suffusing the room. Opening his other eye, he craned his neck to see, delighted to discover his neck still functioned. Small victories, he thought. Looking around, he realized that he was not, in fact, crippled. He was held. Arranged in multiple overlapping bands around the floor were softly glowing runes. Hundreds of them. They encircled him completely, and even crawled up the legs of the simple chair on which he’d been seated. He did not feel constrained, but the warded circles prevented all movement below his neck.
“Hello,” he called out, or at least that was his intention. His mouth opened, and he made the motions of speech, but no sound issued forth. Both bound and silenced, he thought. The scholar in him could not help but admire the elegance of the warding, and the caution it implied. I’d prefer it wasn’t being used on me, though, he thought ruefully.
He looked around, seeing nothing else in the space. There was another chair, set a few feet away, facing him, but it had no occupant. Unable to move or speak, he sat and wondered, what now?
It might have been five minutes, it might have been an hour. He had no way of knowing. But some measure of time later heard a door open, from the sound it was at the top of the stairs. A soft tread descended the steps, and a figure came down into the blue glow of the wards. Slight of build, but fit, the man before him was dressed well, but not ostentatiously. A dark gray open robe over a waistcoat, with a neatly pressed white shirt. He came forward and sat himself in the unoccupied chair. That was when Borænin saw his face. That face. The Lord Protector, yet not.
The features were the same, the strong chin, the hawkish nose, but instead of the bronzed complexion of the Greythorns of his home, this man had skin of near-white, with only a hint of purple to betray him as Ren’dorei. His hair, however, carried the void stigma, a rich indigo that seemed to drink the light. The hair was worn mostly long, but the sides of the head were shaved smooth. An unusual style, thought Borænin. Missing also was the Lord Protector’s sneer and cruel countenance. This man, while perhaps not looking friendly, looked at least reasonable.
The newcomer spoke, “You frightened my granddaughter half out of her mind, sirrah.”
Borænin tried to answer, but the silence held him. He looked helplessly at his visitor, trying convey some sense of his contrition.
“Oh, of course, my apologies. Questioning is rather moot if you cannot answer.” He made an intricate motion with one hand, and a grouping of the runes on the floor ceased to glow.
Testing, Borænin spoke, “My name is…”
“Borænin, yes, Niquisse told us.”
“Yes. Borænin Greythorn.” The emphasis on the surname was obvious.
“You must understand I find that quite impossible.”
“I will admit from your point of view it must seem unlikely,” Borænin replied, then added, “Gilræn.”
Gilræn’s eyes widened just slightly, but he replied blandly, “My name is hardly a closely guarded secret.”
“You’ll have to forgive me, the Lord Protector discourages use of his proper name.”
“The Lord Protector, if we understood Niquisse at all, being me?”
Nodding, Borænin said, “A version of you, from a different Realm.”
Gilræn regarded him coldly for a moment, then said, “I will ask questions, you will answer.”
“As you wish.”
“When you say Realm, you mean what exactly?”
“A different reality. A place where history took a slightly different course.”
‘“I see. And in your reality, or Realm, if you wish, The Greythorn family is…different?”
“We Greythorns dominate our Realm, politically and economically. There is a king on the throne in Silvermoon, but he is a puppet. The Lord Protector is the true power.”
“Why have you come here?”
Confused, Borænin answered, “You brought me here…”
Giving him a sour look, Gilræn said, “This Realm. Why did you come to this Realm.”
Looking sheepish, Borænin replied, “Sorry, of course. Forgive me, it’s not my best day.”
“I should hope not.”
Flashing his interrogator a somewhat irritated look, he said, “The Lord Protector travels between realms, opening Void Rifts to do so.”
Sighing heavily, the captive replied, “When the Lord Protector had extended his domain across our Realm, he found it was not enough to suit him.”
Looking slightly alarmed, Gilræn said, “You are saying he travels to new worlds and conquers them.”
“Exploits them would be a better way of saying it. He does not try to rule them, he simply drains them dry, leaving little more than a husk behind when he is done.”
“What led you to our Realm?”
“An illicit void rift was detected. The Lord Protector investigated. It led here.”
“The Lord Protector severely restricts the use of void rifts.”
“He keeps them for himself.”
“So who opened the ‘illicit’ one?”
“We don’t know. We were trying to discover that.”
“And exploit our Realm for good measure?”
“Of course, that’s what he always does.”
“And you help him.”
Grimacing, Borænin whispered, “I have, many times.”
“Why the change of heart?”
Borænin hesitated, seeming to grasp for words, finally, he said, “Something is different here.”
Nodding, Borænin went on, “All Realms are different, but we saw changes here we’d never encountered. It gave me hope.”
“Hope of putting a stop to him. I’ve been looking for a way. Looking for a very long time.”
“And you think you’ve found it.”
Borænin, looking at nothing, whispered, “I hope so.”
Gilræn studied him for a moment, finally asking, “Why here? What is so different?”
Borænin jerked his chin towards his questioner, said, “You, for one thing. We heard that your family was well-thought-of, was considered kind and generous. That’s damn rare for people who carry our name.”
“You’re saying that across many realities, Greythorns tend to be a bunch of assholes?”
Looking apologetic Borænin replied, “I am afraid so.”
Gilræn chuckled ruefully at this, then asked, “What else? You said I was one thing.”
“Your father. Kalithil Silverthorn.”
“What about him,” Gilræn asked, suddenly even more interested.
“We’ve never seen one that was alive.”
Arching an eyebrow curiously, Gilræn said, “And what happened to your Lord Protector’s father?”
“The Lord Protector happened to him. That’s how it all started. Ages ago, the Lord Protector, long before he was the Lord Protector, killed the Kalithil of our Realm.”
Gilræn frowned deeply, obviously troubled, and asked, “Why? What happened between them?”
Shaking his head, Borænin replied, “No one knows. No one else was there, and the Lord Protector forbids any inquiry. He tries to suppress any knowledge that Kalithil existed.”
“Why the fel would he do that?”
“No one really knows that either.”
“You sound like you have a theory.”
Borænin sighed dramatically and said, “I think the Lord Protector is a child in the body of a frighteningly powerful adult who has been living in the shadow of his long-dead father for thousands of years. I think everything he does is to prove he was the better man. And now that I said that out loud I know how ridiculous it sounds.”
Incongruously, Gilræn started to chuckle, his face breaking into a genuine smile. After a few minutes of laughter, he finally said, “I don’t know. I grew up in Kalithil’s shadow, so I can kind of see his point.” Grinning impishly, he looked over his shoulder at empty air and said, “So what do you think?”
The question hung in the air a moment without reply, then slowly, a figure began to coalesce, seemingly from the air itself, just behind Gilræn and to his left. It was tall, and clothed in blue and gold finery from head to toe. A gold cagework helm with blue undercloth covered his head and obscured his features. His eyes shown a cold silver-blue from beneath the visor. In his right hand he held an intricate stave with a shimmering blue gem at the top. Borænin could only stare, thinking he was seeing some ghost of an ancient king.
“I think his story is far too outlandish to be fiction,” said the apparition.
“I agree, father,” said Gilræn, emphasizing the last word. He went on, “Well! Introductions! Borænin, I present to you my father, Kalithil Silverthorn. Kalithil, meet Borænin Greythorn, our apparent cousin one reality removed. Or something to that effect.”
Chuckling lightly, the blue and gold specter bowed low and said, “I am pleased to meet one of my descendants, even if the circumstances are odd and the relationship is unconventional.”
Borænin simply gaped at both men for several moments. Eventually, his courtly manners reasserted themselves and he replied, “The pleasure is mine, Lord Silverthorn. You will forgive me that I do not return your bow. I’m afraid this chair prevents me.”
Frowning, Kalithil said, “I carry no title, Borænin, other than being Majordomo to the Patriarch of our House. Kalithil will suffice.”
“So you do not lead the House you founded?”
“I originated the bloodline, not the House. The House was a political construct that came much later.”
“Nevertheless, should you not…”
“I would find such duties tedious in the extreme. I am content with my current role,” Kalithil said suddenly, interrupting.
“It’s true, he’s fantastically lazy,” called out a rasping voice from the top of the stairs. Borænin started slightly at the new voice, so engrossed had he been with the sight of Kalithil that he did not hear anyone else enter the room. Following the declaration, there was a low rumbling chuckle and the owner of the voice descended the stairs. He was average in height, almost towered over by the tall Kalithil. He shared the pale skin and silver hair, but his own skin was marked all over by scars and scales, and small horns jutted from his brow. He wore nothing but a black and silver long kilt, his chest bared, showing his crimson demon hunter tattoos. He took up station opposite Kalithil, at Gilræn’s right shoulder.
Trying to regain some confidence, Borænin said, “And you must be Forosuul, the Patriarch.”
Forosuul simply nodded, then motioned for the other two men to continue.
Kalithil spoke first, “You said that your Lord Protector killed my counterpart in your Realm. What happened to the other Silverthorns?”
“We don’t know for sure. They died out. I suspect the Lord Protector was involved, but he does not speak of it.”
“And he established the Greythorn line to supplant me and mine.”
“Yes. He even changed the distinctive Silverthorn coloring.”
Kalithil suddenly seemed to grow much more interested. He took a step forward, peering intently at Borænin through narrowed eyes. Quietly, he asked, “Changed it, you say? How so?”
“Greythorns are not pale like you. We are born bronze of skin and golden haired. I am how you see me only because I was made Ren’dorei.”
Kalithil held his staff forth, asking, “Does your Lord Protector have a staff like this one?”
Borænin shook his head. “His is quite different. It does have a blue gem in the headpiece, but that’s the only similarity.” At this Kalithil’s face went oddly slack. He stepped back a few paces, withdrawing into himself. He seemed to be in deep thought. Forosuul and Gilræn watched him for a moment, bemused looks on their faces.
Finally Gilræn broke the silence. He turned to Forosuul and asked, “What else do you wish to know?”
Forosuul replied, “More than we can ask today. But for now,” he looked up the ceiling thoughtfully for a moment, then went on, “we have enough. Prepare a portal. We are taking everyone to your father’s fortress.”
Rising from his chair, Gilræn said, “At once.”
Looking back at Borænin, Forosuul added, “Release him from the wards. I don’t think he’ll try anything.”
Gilræn, obviously surprised, said, “Are you sure?”
Forosuul smiled slightly and added, “I’m sure. Let’s get moving”
Borænin sat watching this exchange in silence. After a moment, he felt the hold on his limbs give way. Maybe they aren’t just going to kill me, he thought.