Inglorion instructs Ajax to get him an audience with the Duchess. The next morning, Clytemnestra pulls him out of a sparring session and leads him to the throne room. His footsteps echo as he approaches the dais. He stands there, hands clasped, head bowed, waiting to be acknowledged.
“Yes, Inglorion?” she says.
The acoustics are so good that he’s tempted to break into song — he could fill the space with almost shattering volume. Instead, he says, “I’ve returned from Liamelia with the information you requested, Your Grace.”
“What do you have to report?”
“I learned the answer to your question almost immediately. I spent another few days placing the facts in context, and gathering general intelligence.”
“What did you learn?”
“The scars were self-inflicted, likely between the ages of five and 10. Instructors from the orphanage reported that I hadn’t started speaking by the time I was removed at age five. Servants on the Shelawn estate confirmed that I didn’t begin speaking normally until I was eight or nine. I had severe hysterical fits, apparently triggered by poor adaptation to sunlight and the hostility of my peers. The physical symptoms — sick headaches, persistent nausea — tapered off, and were largely resolved by the time I was 14 or 15.”
She eyes him silently for a few moments. “Are you satisfied with what you discovered?”
“I am, Your Grace. The information came from reliable sources, and the sources overlapped on multiple points. For what it’s worth, the information I collected made intuitive sense, though it was unexpected. I have no memory of events, but what I discovered squared with what I’d already been told.”
“I’m satisfied, as well. You will receive increased responsibility, and some additional resources. What intelligence did you collect?”
“Liamelia is poised to elect a new mayor. The only serious candidate is hostile to the Drow. He’s called for all-out war on the Theates tribe in revenge for Xialo. I saw little evidence that he would succeed in gaining cooperation from the Council of Elders, or in raising troops. He may not seriously intend to. But he’s a virulent racist, and ignorant of Drow ways. There’s some increased risk of war during his administration. I can provide further details if you wish, Your Grace.”
She nods. “Make a report to Clytemnestra. She will capture and distribute it. You may start your third trial whenever you wish.”
“I’d like to start immediately, Your Grace.”
“I thought you would. Here it is: Eliminate a political enemy. You may choose a personal rival, or an individual who poses a threat to the clan. How you eliminate that person is up to you. It can be anything from public humiliation and loss of reputation to assassination. Any blowback — feuds, attempts on your life, damage to your reputation — is your sole responsibility. I expect you to select an appropriate target, one that you can eliminate without significant cost to yourself or the clan. You must provide objective evidence to me personally of how your goal was accomplished, along with lessons learned. Do you have any questions?”
“No, Your Grace.”
“You have 90 days.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
For several days thereafter, Inglorion is of two minds. On one level, he coldly reviews the task before him and comes to a series of decisions based on the facts of the case and his own abilities. He doesn’t understand Drow culture well enough to destroy an enemy’s reputation, but he’s handy enough with weapons that he can kill anyone if he has the drop on them, so it will be assassination. He decides to eliminate a personal rival — either Jason or Antigone — because the Drow seem comfortable with the sentiment “L’etat, c’est moi,” and respect it more than a noble attempt to promote the common good. Though Antigone is a tough rival, she’s vulnerable in one important sense: If she were on fire, none of her slaves or servants would piss on her to put it out. They’re more likely to hose her down with gasoline. Inglorion chooses Antigone for his target, and will begin by cozying up to members of her household. Fair enough.
As he reviews his options and chooses among them, Inglorion’s aware of a strong sense of disquiet. Mostly it’s a background worry, a physical malaise. Occasionally his entire train of reasoning breaks down and he thinks, Are you really going to kill a political opponent in cold blood?
At first, Inglorion steadfastly ignores both the thought and feeling. He puts together a workable plan, lays out the steps, rehearses it mentally. He believes that he’s capable of the individual steps, reviewed objectively as a series of tasks. It should be easy, complete in days or weeks, depending on how much risk he’s willing to accept.
A few days after his audience with the Duchess, Inglorion is kicked back in bed, staring at the ceiling, when he realizes that he can’t ignore his distaste for the task. He’s deeply reluctant to murder Antigone in cold blood.
He reviews his logic.
If he must dispose of a rival — and it seems that he must, if he wants to be Marquis Theates — then Antigone’s an excellent choice. She stands between him and political power. He can almost certainly get away with it. She’s brutal, and deserves to be murdered if anyone does. She’d murder him without hesitation if their roles were reversed. If she becomes Duchess Theates, there will be real, unpleasant consequences for anyone she considers her subordinate, and possibly for Liamelia and Amakir, as well.
Inglorion is no stranger to killing. He’s quick to enter combat, and ruthless once it’s underway. He’s killed scores of opponents, some of them elves. He’s hit people with friendly fire and been hit himself, and has accidentally killed people who didn’t deserve it: Noncombatants, troops who were trying to offer their surrender. In a larger moral sense, the majority of people he’s killed didn’t deserve death: They just showed up for work and did their duty, and ended up getting smacked with a longsword for their diligence.
However, Inglorion has never killed anyone in cold blood. As he studies the ceiling in his little underground bedroom, he acknowledges that it will be difficult, and that he might not be able to do it at all. Like any clever person, he can string together rationalizations. They can’t overcome his religious objections. When he considers it — truly thinks about it as a task he must plan and carry out, not just an intellectual exercise — he’s overwhelmed with moral horror. His oath to Corellon Larithian forbids murder, and what he’s contemplating is unambiguously murder.
Like all of us, Inglorion struggles to know right from wrong, screws up daily in small ways, and has made a few colossal moral blunders that cause him lingering pain. He hurt Claudia and Artemisia badly through a combination of omissions, deceptions, inattention and wishful thinking, and he still feels searing, almost daily guilt about that. He’s never deliberately set out to violate his oath, and as he contemplates doing so, he finds he fears the consequences.
There’s not much to look at as he lies there in bed, just a slender current of cool air that twists and flutters like a tiny pennant. As he watches it, he recites a standard gray elvish prayer for guidance, a request to have his path lit in the darkness.
Nope. Nothing. Or, rather, the prayer works as intended. It shows him that he has moral reservations, and that they’re justified. He feels sick. He should feel sick. That won’t change.
Inglorion has often engaged in fasting and other purification rites. Most are intended for clergy, or are decidedly fringe practices. Their purpose is to seek a vision or revelation, to break radically with the past, or to rededicate oneself to a spiritual path. Inglorion knows his path — he’s more or less on it — and he doubts that the gods will issue instructions at each waypoint, as if he were on a treasure hunt. Purification rituals can clarify or deepen intent, though, so Inglorion shrugs mentally and decides to fast. He might as well. In the Underdark, fasting is almost easier than eating.
After five days, Inglorion’s gone through the familiar stages of irritability and exhaustion, and has progressed to exaltation. He feels elated, looks thoroughly crazy, spars viciously at every opportunity, and, strangely, is afflicted with bouts of relentless sexual need. All of this is familiar, and neither alarming nor helpful. Unsurprisingly, fasting doesn’t make cold-blooded murder appealing.
He resumes his regimen of ceiling-contemplation, then, while breaking his fast by gnawing one of the flavorless rations that Ajax squirrels away for times when Inglorion concedes that he might as well eat, and it’s not a scheduled mealtime.
The gods are silent. Or, rather, they decline to buy off explicitly on his plan to commit murder in cold blood. What should be do?
Inglorion hops up, puts on his dressing gown, and pokes his head into the next room. Ajax is sitting quietly in his nest, apparently fashioning an origami flower from stray slips of paper. “Where’d you find paper?” he asks, momentarily diverted.
“I took it from your notebook.”
“Oh.” Ajax is responsible for procuring Inglorion’s notebooks through black market transactions that Inglorion pretends not to notice, so Inglorion can’t chide Ajax for theft. “What are those?”
Ajax places a few precise creases, says, “They can be used as paper dice.”
“You know, for a guy with no possessions, you spend a lot of time gambling. Anyway, you have regular dice. I’ve seen them.”
“I like to think about probabilities and how to model them. Some people believe that their odds change if they use different tools, which is interesting, though untrue. And these can also be used for divination.”
“I see.” It occurs to Inglorion that he’s about to seek moral guidance from someone who is studying how best to cheat at dice. He perches on the edge of his desk — he never sits in the chair, except to prop his feet up on the desk and stare at a different ceiling — and asks, “What do you know about the trials for the Marquisate?”
“I’ve never attempted them, sir, if that’s what you’re asking.” Inglorion waits for Ajax to recover from his own quiet wit. Presently, Ajax adds, “There’s a sort of popular understanding of them, though — Drow commonplaces about how they work.”
“I’m struggling with the third trial.” He describes it to Ajax. “What can you tell me about it?”
“Why are you struggling?”
“I find I don’t want to commit murder.”
Ajax nods, fiddles with his paper flower. Inglorion sees that he’s painstakingly written little mottos on each petal. “Sir, did you find the first two trials at all difficult?”
“No. Or, rather, the first was easy except for the part where I almost died. The second was a bit uncomfortable. Not terrible, though. I’m pretty shameless.”
“Sir, it’s my understanding that some trials are intended to cause moral injury. It’s like a street gang, or the mob. Remember how you told Jason he needed to reveal his character? Her Grace will judge your character by how you reconcile the moral conflict. I imagine she chose this one because it violates your original oath. I don’t think it would be assigned to a candidate who was raised Drow.”
This puts Inglorion’s dilemma in an entirely new light. “Does anyone ever refuse a trial?”
“Yes, sir. Trials may be refused. The Marquisate may be won by default, or relinquished.”
“Well, that’s good to know.” Inglorion continues to stare at the ceiling, allowing the slight patterns made by air currents to soothe and distract him. He’s silent for a long time, while Ajax tests and refines his paper dice. “You know what? Fuck it,” says Inglorion with the air of someone making a decision. “I’m not going to second-guess that shit.” Then he adds by way of explanation, “I’ll just be true to myself and my God. Speaking of, how do I get a tattoo around here?”
“A Drow-type one, sir?”
“Well, yes. A gray elvish one is no use to me.”
“I should think any priestess would do it. I will ask Alecto, though she will want something in return.”
“Well, don’t barter away the ranch for it. But, yes, I think it’s time to give up the pretty-boy look and start casting fear into the hearts of my enemies.”