The holding area where Wiliken and company had found hundreds of caged children appeared to be a converted storage facility. Wiliken had expected to find an access tunnel leading to a surface-level loading dock, but sadly their escape would not be so easy. Everything entering Valgaman’s palace had to come in through the now impassible front entrance, rendering the building ineffectual in terms of daily operations but also highly useful as a trap for ones foes. The druid Jean-Baptiste had even attempted, in the form of a swarm of locusts, to navigate the ventilation ducts only to find the airways shielded as well.
As the githzerai’s allies milled about the complex looking for an overlooked means of escape, Wiliken analyzed the cages that housed the children. Were they as rusted and warped as the cage used to transport Jean-Baptiste to the surface, the children would have been freed long ago, but none of the trapped warriors had weapons powerful enough to cleave the metal bars.
After the lack of self-control he had shown in battle that day, Wiliken had thought to pass the time in meditation, but it had been so long since he’d last fortified his mind and the fear rippling off the myriad children at his mere presence was enough to break an expert trance. Wiliken told himself he was looking for a way to free the children, but instead he walked about idly, focused on his past and his guilt.
“A word, master githzerai?” asked Douglas. Wiliken hadn’t heard the human enter.
“I am at your service,” Wiliken responded, politely. “Not that I could deny your request. It wasn’t so long ago that you commanded your friends to restrain me.”
“I wasn’t certain I could trust you,” Douglas said. Wiliken remembered the disappointment he’d felt when his father-in-law Sazeran had expressed the same sentiment after returning the bow called “True Shot” to the githzerai. Somehow, Douglas’s mistrust didn’t have the same force to it.
“Do you trust me now?”
Douglas avoided responding to the githzerai’s question. “Walk with me,” he said.
Wiliken followed Douglas into the next room where Jurgen, Morgan and Jean-Baptiste – who had once again returned to his camel form – crouched near the animal cages, each trying to communicate with the beasts. Jurgen had hypothesized that the force field used to imprison them was encrypted with a password, so when the children didn’t seem to have the information they needed to escape he’d moved on to the next most intelligent life form, an enormous bear-like beast with tentacles for arms. Jurgen had called the creature an octo-bear, though Wiliken doubted that the deva was using the proper nomenclature. Dragonborn Morgan exchanged draconic words with a large dragon-like reptile and Jean-Baptiste stretched his camel-speak to its limits in hopes he could communicate with a regal looking sabre-toothed zebra. Wiliken considered their attempts to talk to the animals a fool’s errand, but it was certainly a better option than waiting for Valgaman’s allies to wipe them out.
“Inevitably, as you well understand, the issue of your son is going to come to a head,” Douglas said. “When it does, I don’t want to see my friend and I placed in a disadvantageous position. My grandfather often said that understanding is the best armor, so I wonder if you can help me to understand this son of yours.”
“I shall try my hardest to be of assistance.”
“Some of the children I interviewed recalled your son’s soldiers referring to him as Iiuza. Am I to believe that you are the father of the legendary githzerai whose actions lead to the fall of the Shining City?”
“Not at all,” Wiliken said. “From what I’ve been able to put together, my son Embrion was born close to the same moment the Shining City was destroyed. The word ‘Iiuza’ was never spoken in our house. You see, Iiuza is deep speech for ‘son of Iuz,’ a term coined by the first githzerai who entered this plane and used only to describe those they hated most. As Aaron grew older, he began to see kinship between himself and the mass murderer. It began with the coincidence of his birth. He later became blackguard-”
“Your son, blackguard?” Douglas said, appalled.
“Against my explicit orders,” Wiliken continued. The githzerai followed his interlocutor onto the freight elevator. Douglas pressed a button, and with a whir the lift jerkily ascended.
“Where I come from,” Douglas said, “a child’s deeds reflect on his father’s name.”
“Then I would certainly be exiled from your kingdom,” Wiliken responded.
“Is the same custom not true among the githzerai?”
The elevator emerged into the battle pit section of Valgaman’s menagerie and Douglas disembarked. The githzerai followed.
“To this matter, I must admit my ignorance,” Wiliken answered. “I, like my son, was raised among humans. Everything I know of my githzerai heritage I learned from books.”
The human and the githzerai walked several more paces together before they stopped.
“Do you know why I lead you here?” Douglas asked.
Wiliken looked down at the boar carcass beside him. There was blood on the sand, much of it his own.
“This is where you saved my life,” Wiliken responded. “Perhaps you wish me to take an oath on the blood debt I owe you.”
“The same grandfather I told you of earlier also used to say that when you save a life that life belongs to you,” Douglas said. “Not as a slave or a sacrifice, but as a responsibility. Perhaps you might liken this responsibility to that of a parent for a child. If your child saves another, then you are proud, for you have saved this person too. Similarly if your child has killed another. Your oath, I do not need, but I am responsible for you now. Every action you do from this moment on, I have condoned, for you have done it with the life I gave you. What I need from you is a reason to believe that you will save more lives than you end, that you will bring more good into this world than evil.”
“And if I do not convince you?”
“Then I will strike you dead in the very place where once I revived you.”
Wiliken’s anger flared, at Douglas’s self-righteous sense of justice but also at the boy’s belief that he could so easily end the battle-hardened githzerai. Certainly, it was not possible, not here, without his goons to back him up, not on the human’s best day.
Wiliken took a deep breath and focused his mind. “I will do my best,” he said. “Does that please you, master Douglas?”
Douglas stared at Wiliken for a moment. For a man of disguise, he displayed his emotions too easily across his face. The man was weighing his options, seriously considering both killing the githzerai and welcoming him as an ally. Wiliken stared back. Whatever his fate, he would face it without shame.
“It doesn’t,” Douglas said. “But I suppose it will have to do until we get out of this place.”
“And then?” Wiliken asked.
“Then,” Douglas said. “Then, I will be forced to make a difficult decision.”
Wiliken stared at Douglas a short while longer before dropping his gaze and walking back toward the elevator.
“One more thing, master githzerai,” Douglas said. “I’ll admit that my animal-speak is a bit rusty, but I believe your deva friend is offering to feed the octo-bear a child in exchange for information. Take my advice and steer your friend from that path, would you?”
Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 10.