Hoard of the Dragon Queen
Azrael's Memory - Betrayal
The memory came. There was nothing I could do to halt it. Still the fear tears at my mind as it did that night that I was summoned by my mother.
The ancient floorboards creaked beneath my slight frame and with each small hesitant step their pained groans would echo through the halls. Ladon had warned me about this. I just didn’t know when to expect it. After what felt like an eternity and yet still not long enough, I reached the large intricately carved wooden doors that lead to my parents’ study. I blew out my tallow candle and placed it on the windowsill before taking a deep breath to calm myself and a moment to wipe at the traitorous tears that have begun to pool at the corners of my eyes. A tiny grunt escapes as I push the door open with both hands and slip through the minimal opening into the room that will forever haunt my nightmares.
I’ve never seen the inside of this room before and I don’t respond when my mother calls as I am distracted, taking it all in. The room is filled with our history and it speaks in breaths of dust and parchment. There are five walls lined with tomes from the smooth stone floor to the 18 foot ceiling save two. The wall directly across the room from where I entered is a vertical garden. Many of the plants and herbs on the wall were foreign to me. My eyes followed the vines that stretched to the ceiling and across many of the bookshelves. Some had even wrapped themselves around the corked bottles on the shelves that lined the wall to the right of the garden. These bottles were filled with dimly glowing liquid or, in some, what looked like various types of sand. Beneath the shelves of bottles sat a broad desk splattered with ink from countless nights of meticulous work. Hanging in large bags at the sides were a number of twine tied scrolls, while opened tomes and scattered bits of parchment cluttered its surface.
I was brought back to attention when my mother shouted my name, causing me to jump. The moment she lifted her hand, I flinched even though she was only gesturing for me to move forward. My mind raced along with my heart slamming against my rib cage. I hadn’t realized I had been holding my breath. With a fleeting glance to Ladon and Fraenir who stood on either side of the door I’d just entered, I walked across the room and took the few steps up to the stone cauldron. My older brothers would never go against our parents even to help me and I would never blame them for this.
My mother had an excited look in her eyes as she held her hand out to me over the bubbling liquid. “Come… my darling Azrael.” I couldn’t help but cringe as her poison laced words cause a shiver to run down my spine. I had to force myself to take each step. I looked to my left where my father stood in front of a fireplace I hadn’t noticed until just now. He nodded and I placed my hand in hers. I could feel my pulse in my throat and it’s so loud in my ears that it nearly drowns everything else out. Every fiber of my being warned me to run, but it was more my fear that locked me in a vise than the gaunt hand gripping my wrist. Almost immediately, my mother twisted my wrist so that my palm was facing up. The forceful and unexpected motion caused a sharp pain to shoot up my arm. I yelped in pain and tried to pull my arm away, but the hand only gripped me tighter.
My struggling causes the cauldron to rock slightly. The bubbling liquid inside sloshes with its ominous glow and the movement causes a putrid stench to fill the room. The panic started to set in and that prickling feeling returns to my desiccated tear ducts when I look down and see my mother’s free hand being splashed by the liquid as it rests on the edge of the cauldron. It immediately began to burn the skin chemically. I watched in horror as the liquid sears through the skin and the tissue falls away leaving the bone visible and yet this elicits no reaction from her. One of my brothers, Fraenir, walks up behind me and helps to hold my arm still. I could see his jaw is clenched, but he won’t look at me. A moment later, Ladon comes up and pins my free arm back, holding me in place. We made eye contact for only a second, but I could see a well of apology in his eyes.
The sound of iron clinking caught my attention and I looked to the left where my father was removing what looked like a white hot iron quill from the fireplace. The hold my brothers had on me tightened as he came closer and both of them looked away. I attempt to struggle, but my size and strength doesn’t compare to theirs. The heat from the iron quill could be felt over a foot away. My small fists clenched as I looked up at my father, tears streaming down my cheeks. “Ada, please!” The use of that name, especially in front of my mother, caused him to look up at me. Deep leaf green eyes that mirrored my own met mine for a brief moment before my father shook his head apologetically, dipped the quill into the liquid that burned my mother’s skin away, and placed it to my skin.
At first, I couldn’t even scream. Wave after wave of searing pain flooded my thoughts and I soon began to drown beneath it. The acid singeing away at my flesh felt like a fire raging up my arm and into my chest. All of the air rushed from my lungs and I struggled to breathe as if I were thousands of feet under water. My vision started to fade around the edges as the smell of burnt flesh tore through my mind. I worried that I’d never resurface. After what felt like an eternity, a ragged gasp escapes my lips and I find my voice. I begged them to stop through the tears and gasps and screams. My father and brothers wouldn’t make eye contact with me and I just needed them to look at me… to see the pain they were causing and they’d stop. Wouldn’t they?
The putrid smell of my burning skin filled the room and entangled itself in my desperate screams and my mother’s chanting. The corners of her lips curved up in a triumphant smile as she tilted her head back, basking in the moonlight that pooled over my family through the large stained glass window that covered nearly the entire ceiling of the study. At the time, I hadn’t thought to look at what my father was carving into my arm. I’m not sure I would have understood its meaning at that age anyway. The pain and the betrayal was more important to my innocent mind. Years later, I now know every intricate detail of these scars from the countless times that I’d lightly traced them with my finger. I now know its meaning and that I am forever bound to the fiend whose name tarnishes my skin.
“Uh hello?…Guys, she’s gone.” The gnome’s snarky voice penetrated my thoughts and brought me back to the present. The sounds of my mother’s laughter mingling with the fearful cries of a betrayed child fade back into silence as my eyes came to focus again on the banner across the room that triggered the unwelcome memory. I shook my head a bit in an attempt to clear my thoughts and looked at him, still slightly dazed. I couldn’t collect my thoughts quickly enough to form a coherent sentence. Obviously at least vaguely aware of my internal struggle, he smirks and says “Okay okay. No one panic… I’m a doctor.” while tugging the sleeves of his robe up and taking a step toward me. The large one, a half-orc, scoffs and places a hand on the gnome’s shoulder just as the elf woman rolls her eyes and says with a sigh “Let’s go. There’s a chest in here with my name on it. I can feel it.”