Chapter 2:


Nature has always been stronger than anything man can craft. In the face of the infinitude of existence, man is small, insignificant, puny. Man cannot challenge the greater order forever. Nothing man creates is as powerful or permanent as what is ordained by primeval forces. And so it is with truth. Truth is the strongest illusion. No lie could ever have the same simple power that the truth so easily wields.

It seemed to Artemis that he had probably spent more time unconscious than conscious over the past few weeks. As he tried to avoid fully regaining consciousness he wondered how long he had been out this time. Maybe he hadn't fallen unconscious this time. Given what his father had said, and the words he had said to his father, Artemis wouldn't have been too surprised if the assassin had just killed him. Strangely, Artemis didn't seem too concerned about this. Was that proof? He decided that maybe coming back to full consciousness wouldn't be the world's worst idea. Maybe then he'd know if he was dead or not. Wresting control of his spiraling thoughts, Artemis focused on his senses, trying to perceive everything he could. The itching of rough blankets on his skin, the light sound of breathing, the rise of his chest. These were pretty normal feelings. What was he missing? Oh, sight. He opened his eyes.

The moment Artemis opened his eyes, even as his vision was still swimming, the dark-haired man sitting in a chair at his bedside snapped shut the book he had been reading, the loud crack of the leather-bound pages coming together causing Artemis to flinch involuntarily. Within a moment, a jeweled dagger was at Artemis' throat, pressing so lightly onto the skin that it did not draw blood even when the younger man swallowed nervously. "Listen carefully," said the older man, his voice clear, enunciated, and deep. "I will give you a chance, this single chance, to ask me what you want to know. You will not raise your voice, you will not let your temper get the better of you. If you do not follow these rules, this conversation is over. Do you understand?" With this, he withdrew the dagger slightly, allowing the younger man to nod.

It took some time for Artemis to gather the courage to speak. It didn't help that his father was giving him a look of casual boredom, although at least his legendary dagger had been sheathed. Artemis realized that he was probably one of the only beings to have been that close to his father's dagger and lived. The thought gave him strange courage, and he opened his mouth to ask his first question.

"Why am I here?" Artemis had tried to make his voice sound strong and firm, but days of poor treatment had caused not insignificant dehydration, and his voice cracked as he rasped out the question. His eyes tracked his father as the older man crossed the room, and came back with a full waterskin. Artemis took it gratefully, swallowing a small amount of lukewarm water before his father spoke.

"You are here as insurance," his father answered. "The general is paying me well, but it seems he wanted to take extra precautions to ensure my loyalty. As my only remaining family member, you were required. I'm supposed to torture you to death, to prove my loyalty." At this statement Artemis gasped, and visibly paled. Thoughts raced through his head, each more terrible than the last, as he contemplated the pain involved in being tortured to death. "Of course," his father continued, in a dry tone, "this plan seems somewhat, ah, sub-optimal to me. So I'm going to need to escape. And that requires you to help me."

Artemis' eyes went wide as his father told him this last part, but he still didn't understand what was happening. "If you want to escape with me," he asked, "why are you still torturing me? Why am I unconscious every few hours? Why did you tell the General you would break me, and that you want me dead?" Through sheer force of will Artemis managed to keep his voice steady and his tone controlled, much as he wanted to scream at the smug assassin.

"I'll answer the last question first," the older man said, "and then I don't think I'll have to explain the first. I told the General the truth, but in the way that he wanted to hear it. He knows if you lie to him, you know," the assassin added conversationally. Artemis hadn't known this, but it made sense. He might be called the General, but everyone knew that he was first and foremost a powerful mage. And magic-users just had ways of knowing things.

His father continued. "I told him you shouldn't be alive. That was true. To the General, that meant that you were uncommonly difficult to kill. But to me, it simply referred to the fact that I never intended to have a child. If you shouldn't have been born, you shouldn't be alive."

That made sense to Artemis, but he needed to press further. "But what about when you said you'd break me? That can't really be misinterpreted, can it?"

The older man chuckled, a deep, throaty, and intimidating sound. "No, it can't. But what I didn't say is that I would rebuild you afterwards, in my own image. The perfect blade is forged through violence, as I was. You will be too. I will forge you to perfection, but that can wait until tomorrow." The older man smiled, the action looking strained and unusual, and the unlikely pair moved on to a new topic, for the first time seeming like a father and son.