Nightscape: Spawn of Cloud and Storm
Written in the style of an old Persian fable, this novelette introduces an era of sword and sorcery to the Nightscape mythos. After a robbery gone wrong, Mizak Fen, a kindhearted rogue with the countenance of a blackened skeleton, finds himself at the mercy of the cruel Sultan Drothak Sul. He’s compelled to protect the man-serpent’s favorite concubine from possible attack by a rebel sorcerer. When Mizak Fen fails in that all-important charge, he has no choice but to track the sorcerer to his remote desert lair. There are just a couple of notable complications: the exact location of this lair is unknown and worse, Mizak Fen’s been infected by a magical entity bound to drive him mad.
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Thus relate the stewards of legend that in the Year of the Mercy Hawk, Kanavar was bound to the will of Sultan Drothak Sul as if with a black kerchief. The lingering campaign against the insurgent mage Gisuku Bel gave the Sultan a powerful excuse to impose both martial law and burdensome taxes. This war effort put an honorable glamour on the Sultan’s many tyrannies. Though his greed for wealth and power was infamous, loyalist love blinded the better part of the public; the remainder shaded their eyes from base fear. After all, the Sultan had an unparalleled army of Men and Daimons, and arcane science besides. And Giseku Bel, though himself unseen for a generation, sent many a fearsome sorcery against the capital city. “Wise eggs avoid the play of stones,” goes a Kanavar saying.
The Sultan’s cumbering reach left thieves and scapegraces like Mizak Fen with few prospects worth more than a nail-pairing. Though an orphan from the meanest slum in Bandrusan, Mizak Fen was known as a selfless rogue: a swindler, forger, gambler, and homewrecker of the kindest character. His fellow brigands called him Sah-Vaqis, a Kanavar word meaning “pious hook,” because he cheated only the ignoble rich. Sometimes he acted the part of an itinerant monk, begging coins on behalf of the local alley scamps. His fluency in traditional pieties (the Self-moving Soul alone is the bearer of truth!) softened his naturally disagreeable countenance. As a Daimon, he was tall of stature and shadow thin, the color of settled coal dust with eyes like ever-dying embers. In full light, his gaunt face revealed the penumbra of his skull.