Another excerpt from the upcoming book, still in formatting stages:

Vorasho Angladais dozed heavily in his cell beneath Napal City Castle, now called Castle Bane. He had languished here for a long while, he knew not how long, in truth, and he had battled boredom and madness equally. Reghar Holt, once the High Thane of the Napalian Empire, was his only fellow prisoner. A man who had been down in the dungeons for so long, and experienced so much, he was hardly coherent for more than a few hours a day. Vorasho had gradually become used to sleeping in the horrid environment, and now it was almost second nature.

The gentle splash of water on stone became insistent, rhythmic, and it woke Vorasho from a stiff slumber beneath his bedframe, where Reghar had insisted he rest for safety. Though Vorasho had thought his crazed cellmate to be completely mad, the past months had shown snippets of clarity in his raving. One particularly quiet evening, when the silence in the halls of the dungeon had become too oppressive to be natural, Vorasho had listened and pulled his cot beneath the iron frame of the bed chained against the wall. Strange sounds of claws on rock and echoing moans had made him grateful he had listened. Reghar, despite his deterioration, had proven a valuable companion.

Vorasho had explored his cell more times than he could count. It was six paces from each corner to the next, with one’s hand on the wall or bars. The bars themselves were wide enough he could reach his arm through up to the shoulder, but Reghar had advised him not to do so, lest he tempt whatever horrors the madman believed were lurking outside their prison. Vorasho though, had become determined to find a way out, but thus far had come up with nothing he could do to extricate himself and his newfound ally. He did think of Reghar as a friend now, if not, perhaps, a reliable one. Reghar could spend days chattering to himself about people and places Vorasho did not recognize, and could not be certain were real, and in those lengthy periods where communication was not possible, the Angladaic prince did what he could to find them an escape.
But there was not one coming, from what he could discern. The chains on the cot were too thick, as were the bolts holding them in place, to be used to pick the lock built into Vorasho’s door. He had some hope that he could knock out the stone around the bars and loosen them enough to knock the metal barrier down. Vorasho had obtained some rocks sizeable enough to chip away at the wall, and estimated it would only take him about a decade to make enough progress to fit one limb into any gap he made.

Reghar had, either due to the torment he had been put under by Wolfbane or because of his prolonged isolation, long ago given up on escape. He rambled instead, and when he was cogent enough Vorasho would try to talk to him about things he might be able to understand. Generally, this was fruitless, but it kept Vorasho from going entirely mad himself, and prevented the Angladaic from worrying about his escape, if only for a while. Recently, however, a new visitor had begun to come down to the dungeon on occasion, the visits more frequent with each passing week.

Vorasho hefted himself off of the hard floor and stretched. He could hear Reghar eating next to him, talking around or between his mouthfuls. Vorasho went to the wooden bucket in one corner that served as his latrine and relieved himself before going to the far corner, near the door and close to Reghar’s cell, to drink water from one of the leather pouches hanging on the bars. He had to admit, they were served bland foods but with great regularity and in good quantities. Reghar heard him and stopped his meal long enough to say, “Beans today, with a bit of flavor. Good day.”

Vorasho picked up the bowl at his feet and sniffed it. Cold, and likely not flavored much at all despite what Reghar had told him, but a reasonable dish nonetheless. He tried to avoid using his hands too much, but the extensive beard he now sported made simply lapping the food from the bowl or tipping it into his mouth too messy, and he eventually surrendered. He’d not bathed since he was brought here, and his wounds had received only cursory review by a few men, likely not even healers. It was a wonder he’d not become sick or had his injuries infected.

Finishing his meal, he went and sat on the metal frame of the cot and wiped his fingers, futilely, on his breeches. He was considering what to do with his time, then fell to the ground and began doing his fitness routine. Body weight exercises, jumps, and presses all over the room were the only way that Vorasho could stay relatively fit and ready, should his opportunity to escape come. He was in the midst of push-ups when he heard the heavy tread of thick heeled boots coming down the hall and saw the flicker of torchlight as a door opened nearby, letting in the briefest gust of fresh air. Vorasho did not stop his routine, though he heard Reghar retreat and whimper softly in his cell.

Wolfbane came round the corner, carrying a torch in one hand and a battered stool in the other. The massive man was dressed unusually, as he had been for some time now. Where he had once gone bare-chested and with his great musculature on full display, he now wore a tunic of the Napalian design, with metal clasps to hold the two sides of the shirt together over the chest. Wolfbane had his shirt partially undone, but it only showed Vorasho his waist and just below his neck. He watched as Vorasho completed his final push up and rested on his knees. The warlord set the stool down and hooked the torch into a wall sconce. “Still planning on breaking free and fighting me, Angladaic?”

“Preparation is key,” Vorasho answered him.

Wolfbane smiled and sat in the chair, resting his elbows on his large legs. “I don’t know why you are in such a hurry to leave; we’ve been getting quite close, you and I.”

“Yes, these little chats are so informative.”

Wolfbane laughed. “You can dismiss them if you want, Vorasho, but I find this to be educational. You see, brawn is nothing without intellect, and as you are the son of a great nation’s ruler, and a brave and valiant man by your own right, I feel there is much I can gather from talking with you. It would be better if you saw this as an exchange and not an interrogation.”

“For it to be an exchange,” Vorasho said wiping his brow as he studied Wolfbane through the bars, “we’d have to be equals, and you never share anything about yourself.”

To his surprise, Wolfbane paused to ponder the point a moment. “Alright,” the large man said, spreading his hands, “tell me what you want to know.”

It was the first time Wolfbane had given him an opening, and Vorasho was unsure of what to do. Each of their conversations prior had been Wolfbane pumping him for information, like churning the handle of a well to squeeze every last drop of water from it. Now, Vorasho had a chance to get something in return, but he wasn’t sure what to ask after. “I suppose you might as well start from the beginning,” the Angladaic said. “You were not born Wolfbane, so who are you, really?”

“How do you know Wolfbane is not my true name?” The larger man grinned, then admitted, “But you are correct. I went by something different before.” Vorasho waited expectantly, though he half-believed Wolfbane would simply change topics. “My education began in Plynth, where I was nameless. Do you know the city?” Vorasho shook his head. “It is a vast place, ruled over by the Pirate King in the midst of the Vastness, right on the great water reserves that form the massive oasis there. I was taken from my parents before I could even form a memory of them, and made a slave. My owner gave me a name, but I refuse to speak it here.”

“Is that who taught you to fight, your owner?”

Wolfbane laughed loudly, throwing his head back. “Oh no, prince, I learned to fight because that was how I stayed alive. When I became too dangerous to the other slaves in the household, they sold me to the gladiatorial pits, where I killed anyone who tried to take what little belonged to me. I was good at it, very good, and before long I was the best gladiator in the arena. I had women, fine clothes, all the food and drink I could want, but nothing of real value.”

“Because you were still a slave.”

“Yes!” Wolfbane leaned forward, seeming pleased that Vorasho understood. “Everything given to me was just that: given. None of it was mine; what I had could be taken from me at any moment.”

“Angladais had slavery for a time, long ago,” Vorasho admitted. “We abolished it, not because of respect for our fellow men and women, but because it is an untenable way of maintaining control.”

“Wise,” Wolfbane said nodding, “and a lesson the slave owners of Plynth will likely never learn. In the Vastness, among the Theiman men, my people,” he said the last with a humorless smile, “possessions are all that matter. You have, or you have not. As a slave I had nothing.”

Vorasho found himself intrigued, despite the man before him being a sworn enemy. “So how did you escape?”

“Escape?” Wolfbane smiled. “You still do not understand me, Vorasho. I don’t run, I fight. I convinced many of the slaves to join with me instead of fighting one another. We revolted in the midst of what was to be the biggest series of games in the pits in a decade. We killed most of the masters, took a great chunk of the city of Plynth for ourselves, and then it all fell to infighting and backstabbing, and I was already the hand in so many deaths, with so little to show for it, that I took my freedom and went north.”

“But how is that different from running?”

Wolfbane pulled the ends of his long shirt together, one of the clasps having come loose, covering something that Vorasho still could not quite make out, something that seemed a bit off about his chest. “Running would have been sneaking out. I carved my way free, and made sure everyone who had kept me in chains, even those who’d gifted me great wealth, paid for what they had done. I went north because there was no sense is staying. The slaves would not know how to cooperate with one another long enough to hold any real control. We were raised to kill and steal, and most of all to distrust. I went looking for something better, with a few who thought like me.”

“Where did you go?”

Wolfbane held up one massive finger. “Now, you’ve gotten quite a lot from me, Vorasho. I think I’ll save that for later. I came down here to ask you about something else, as a fellow ruler.” He pulled a neatly folded piece of parchment from a leather pouch at his side and opened it, reading. “To the False Lord of Legocia: you have taken it upon yourself to lay claim to lands that are, by divine right, those of Neroth, God of Death, and his servant, Wolfbane. This will be the only warning you receive. You may meet with me and discuss the terms of your submission to the Shepherd of Souls, or you will be destroyed.”

Wolfbane looked at Vorasho, gauging his reaction. The Angladaic was confused. “Who is the Lord of Legocia?”

“Exactly!” Wolfbane stood, spreading his hands in exasperation. “You know by now that Frothgar and Valissa failed to take Aves, though they nearly destroyed the fortress and crippled the region. Well, the Broken have lived up to their name and spread out across Dragon’s Watch and the Dust Plains, back to being minor raiding bands with little ambition beyond their own animalistic needs.” He paused scratching at his beard. “But I don’t need them, and the loss of my officers is something that can and will be overcome. Yet, in the wake of this minor victory, some young upstart has named himself Lord of Legocia, and is rumored to be claiming dominion over all lands south of the God’s Bones!” Wolfbane laughed, but it was more like a snarl. “Next he’ll be laying claim to the Silverleaf elves as well!”

“You’re concerned,” Vorasho said. “This is a real threat.”

Wolfbane raised one eyebrow and smiled, dangerously. “When you are in a position of power, everything is a threat.”

“You could negotiate with him.”

“To what end?” Wolfbane scoffed. “I’m looking to you for your experience and input, treating you as an equal, and you really think you can persuade me to bow down before some upstart?”

“How many soldiers do you have, right now, that you could dedicate to fighting another force to the south? You’re dealing with this Resistance to the east, containing my people in Angladais, and you want to stretch yourself even thinner?”

“I gave him the choice to surrender.”

“You’re threatening him. It’s only going to make him push back harder, dig his heels in, it might even bring him more allies.”

Wolfbane studied Vorasho, considering his words more carefully now. He sat back down on the stool and held one hand out, palm up. “Very well, what would you do?”

“Invite him to parley, get a read on what he wants and what resources he has. Do some reconnaissance and, maybe, find a way to avoid another war on top of the one you are already fighting.”

Wolfbane studied Vorasho, trying to read his eyes, which remained unblinking and locked on his own. “Alright, perhaps I could adjust the tone of my missive. I’ll invite this Lord of Legocia to meet me, and see what he has to call upon for aid.” Wolfbane stood, retrieving both the stool and his torch. “You’ve been quite helpful, Vorasho, and very observant. It would be a great challenge to oppose another enemy to the south with what I have left in my reserves, but luckily I have other resources I can call upon.” Wolfbane walked almost completely out of sight before pausing and calling over his shoulder, “Until next time, Angladaic.”

When he was gone Vorasho found himself moving back towards the bars, looking in the direction the warlord had departed in. He felt there was something, a hint of important information, in the conversation they had had. What did Wolfbane mean by “other resources?” Even in his imprisonment, Vorasho could not stop thinking how he might use his position to maybe, someday, help those fighting back against the Nerothians.

“You can’t trust him.” Reghar was at the bars of his own cell, his disheveled and filthy hair and beard almost completely obscuring his eyes and other human features. It was difficult for Vorasho to remember that the haggard man was younger than he was by nearly a decade. “He did the same with me, squeezing me for information until I had nothing left. And now….” The other prisoner trailed off.

Vorasho, noting the briefest moment of apparent lucidity from his fellow cellmate, asked, “Do you know what other forces Wolfbane has? Why doesn’t he seem more upset about the defeat to the south?”

“They are everywhere.” Reghar’s eyes rolled up into his head and back down, scanning in every direction. “I think I hear them, scraping away in the walls and the ceiling.”

Vorasho watched him back away from the bars, fearfully looking all about him. The moment lost, the Angladaic prince returned to his bunk and laid back on the metal frame, staring at the ceiling and waiting for the next delivery of food and water.

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