Khem wanted to understand the man in front of him. Everything in the world had gone wrong. What color were the man’s eyes? He couldn’t see them. How tall was the man? Khem didn’t know. What was the man’s hair color? Build? Race? Khem couldn’t take in any of that. All he could see was the sword that had pierced through his belly.
It wasn’t supposed to have happened. He’d told the man what the man wanted to know. He’d told them all what they wanted. He’d surrendered!
The stab wasn’t fatal though. Maybe that was the trick of it. The man was putting on a show to get the others to talk, and he had to make it look real. There had been a cleric with the man, hadn’t there? Khem couldn’t be sure. There had to be a cleric. They were going to heal him as soon as they dragged him away from the others.
The man stabbed him again. He wasn’t pretending. There was no cleric nearby.a
Khem felt the blade enter his heart and then there was a strange lightness as all of the pain went away. As did all the heat in his body and all the light in his eyes.
“Why?” He didn’t have breath to ask the question but it filled him, welling into every corner of his being, and bursting forth from the ragged tear in his chest. “I did what they wanted! Why?”
“Because you were weak.”
Khem lay in a gutter. Right where his father had always told him he’d wind up. He’d silenced that old fool with a brick to the head like the old man had deserved but the voice that said he deserved to be in a gutter had never gone away.
“And because you betrayed me.”
It wasn’t his father’s voice. The man who spoke had none of the chortling, impotent rage that Khem’s father had been consumed by. The speaker’s voice was measured and calm, even when he spoke of betrayal.
“Why?” Khem asked. Why was he here. Why was the man speaking to him. Why was he weak.
“You betrayed me, but you did not renounce me,” the man said and stooped down beside Khem.
Khem looked up and beheld eyes that flashed from the white of bleached bone, to the green of a choking miasma, to the black of pitch, to the blue of angry lightning, and finally to same crimson that had spurted from Khem’s chest when the blade was withdrawn.
A new question filled Khem, more urgent than anything about himself ever could be.
“Who are you?”
“I am the World Tyrant, I am Takhisis, I am the King of all Dragonkind,” the man said whispering each title with slow satisfaction. “But you have called upon me as Tiamat, and I do not forget my even the smallest bit of my hoard.”
When Khem had said the prayers the cult taught him, he’d felt the faintest tingle of something recognizing the words he spoke. It hadn’t been much, but he figured he deserved to be a powerful cleric as much as the next guy and thought with some practice he’d be rolling in divine magic. It couldn’t be that hard after all.
In the divine words spoken to him though, Khem understood how impossible his hope had been. He wasn’t worthy of Tiamat. No one could be.
“My Queen!” he said and groveled before the man.
“Do not address me as those who do not know me do,” Tiamat said. “You are in my presence, I have spoken of my rightful place.”
“My King!” Khem said. “My God!”
“Yes,” Tiamat said. “You betrayed me, your spirit broke, but you never renounced me, so I am still your God and you are still my servant.”
“How may I serve you Great One!” Khem was lost in the madness of ecstacy. The only bit of himself that remained in his consciousness was rage at the betrayal that cost him his life. His body was slain, but he could feel his spirit shifting, beginning to gather in the ectoplasm needed to form a proper revenant ghost.
“You are weak,” Tiamat said. “Unworthy to be in my service. You can do nothing for me as you are.”
“What must I do! How can I be less unworthy!” Khem wailed. He couldn’t be cut off from his god. He couldn’t be left as a hollow wraith and denied his vengeance.
“I can cleanse you of the frailty that clings to your soul,” Tiamat said. “But you must give yourself willingly to me. To the fire, and the acid, to the cold and the poison, and the lightning.”
“I am yours!” Khem whispered, his voice hoarse and catching in a throat which no longer drew breath. “Always!”
“Then fall before me,” Tiamat said and fire swept over Khem’s soul.
He burned and it was an unending agony. The pain went far beyond any penance he could have deserved, and began to sear away every bit of him which had ever understood mercy, or kindness, or compassion.
The first was still burning as he was drowned in acid, the flood dissolving away reason and hope and humanity.
On it went with cold, which froze him as he burned, and poison which slew the memory of life that lay within him, and the lightning which illuminated every dark corner inside him and showed the tender bits dying and the hateful ones rising to the fore.
Bit by bit, Khem was broken on the forge of Tiamat’s will, as the self-style ruler of all dragonkind both punished and empowered their newest fallen servant.