It all began many years ago with my father, Thatcher Paramont. My memories of my father were of a giving man. He always did his best to give my two brothers and me a good life and indeed my upbringing was quite happy. However, my father was a troubled man. The burden of his past weighed heavily on his soul. His stern face was weathered with signs of early aging and his raven black hair was peppered with grays. As a young girl I never knew of his past. It was a safe-guarded secret, much like I was to rest of the world.
I remember once when I was a child playing with my brother Ivan. We were playing a game of chase and running through the keep laughing loudly. Suddenly my father appeared from out of nowhere with anger burning in his eyes. He hoisted me up and shut me into a closet faster than I’d ever seen him move!
“Do as I say girl and make not a sound”, he said. I was surprised and scared of angering him any further so I barely breathed. Then I overheard him talking to someone I didn’t recognize. A stranger. Father always told me to be cautious of strangers. When the stranger left he took me from the safety of the closet and sat down beside me. “Vladriel, you must be careful. The outside world is not safe. Strangers must not know about you for they will not understand”, my father said. When I asked if it was because of my wings he nodded. I asked why I had wings and he said, “It is because your mother is a devil”. That next morning my father woke me early and handed me two small blades. The following years were spent playing with my brothers and learning proper swordsmanship.
One spring morning I was out doing chores with my brothers. Father was in town gathering supplies for my 15th birthday. While the boys were proclaiming which girl from town was the most beautiful, I heard yelling some distance away. I quietly backed away and sneaked into the forest. Once I had gotten closer I opened my wings and flew onto a low hanging branch to see my father confronted by two men. They were arguing with him.
“We can’t leave without you. It’s not like you made yourself easy to be contacted. No one just leaves the Zhentarim, Black Mask, you and I both know that’s not how it works!”, a man said to father. He had a slight build with rather unassuming features. His eyes were little more than slits as he leered at father. The other man remained in silence but his large form spoke for itself. I could see the suspicious man beginning to reach for his weapon. A sudden surge of anger flooding me as I dropped from my hiding place pulling forth my saber and dagger. I threaten the man with the pointy end and my face felt hot with my anger. A feral snarl rumbled from my lips. The stranger step back in surprise and fear.
“A winged demon”, he said nearly tripping over himself. I remained in place.
“The rumors are right”, he said in a hallowed voice and saw him wave his hand in a warding gesture.
From beside me I could hear father sighing. I remember the regretful look on his face.
“Val, you should have stayed away”, he said in a hollow voice. In a blur of motion, he threw two daggers, burying them deep in the two men’s chests. The big one dropped to the ground, dead on impact. The other man lay clutching his chest in horror, gargling on blood. Father paid no heed as he freed his weapons. He reached to the dying man’s hip fetching a coin purse, not a hidden weapon. I frowned and looked up at father, nervous and hesitant. A normal girl would have cried or ran in fear after seeing such a scene but I am not fully human. I’ve never been without pity or remorse however those emotions have always been cool and toned down. I was shocked to see my father kill but he had trained me since my youth in martial arts and what to expect in combat. He also taught when it’s wise to avoid a fighter but I had let my anger get the best of me. I stood quiet and solemn, waiting for father to speak.
“Grab his legs”, he said and gestured at the smaller man whom had finally gone silent. Thank the gods. I did as he said and we began dragging the men into the woods that surrounded our keep. I began to get winded as we neared our home.
“Leave him here for now”, father said while dropping the big man’s legs. We walked back to the keep and found my brothers Brent and Ivan grooming Meryl our Clydesdale.
“There you are. I was wondering where you two were”, Brent said. Father shrugged and began to saddle Meryl.
“I was checking our supplies and we’re low on fish. I need you two to head to the cabin tonight and fill our stock”, father said. They nodded and I could see them looking at each other with mischievous intent. Normally I’d have given them a snarky retort or rolled my eyes but I was feeling dour.
“Why are you being a sourpuss, Val? Is your devil blood making you a pouty pants again?”, Ivan teased trying to pull on my tail.
“That’s just how girls are”, Brent said. Normally fishing at the cabin was my only chance to retreat from the keep. Father was getting them away from home so I decided to play along. I flashed them a dirty look and flapped my wings and flew to my bedroom balcony.
Later I heard father in the pigeon coop and heard him release one from the window. He sent out pigeons from time to time. I kept a distance from him for the remainder of the day until the quiet and solitude became unbearable. Night had fallen hours ago and the dark was heavy in the keep. I found father sitting in his upholstered wingback chair in front of a dying fire. The room was thick from pipe smoke.
“Father”, I said in a small voice from the doorway. He shook himself from his reverie and turned his head toward me. He actually seemed relieved to see me.
“Val, come in. Please sit down,” he was quiet for a moment. “We should talk”, he said with a nod. I sensed that father was going to tell me something significant. He paced the room. I’d never seen my father appear so nervous and anxious.
“Why did that man call you ‘black mask’?, I asked which broke the silence. He eyed me and nodding again to himself. He sighed and sat next to me.
“Before you were born I was not a very good man. This very keep was bought in secret with blood money. Money I earned by working for the Zhentarim, a criminal network. For many years I did their bidding. The Zhentarim have many enemies and allies, devils being one of them. I found myself accompanying a local lord of our order to a meeting with one such devil. She wasn’t your run of the mill sort but a high ranking lordess and somehow I had caught her eye. You don’t turn down such a powerful creature and despite her being a devil she was quite beautiful. She was your mother, Glasya”, father fell silent again for a few moments.
“Short after I was sent on a mission. A man had betrayed our order and I was sent to dispose of him. I entered his home and buried my sword in his belly. I heard the sound of a pan falling to the floor and looked up to see a young woman stand in the hall in surprise. I hadn’t expected her to be there but she had seen me so I ran towards her shoving my blade into her neck. She cried out and tried to pull the blade out with her hands. As she lay dying in my arms she wept and I was sickened with myself. I’d never taken such an innocent life before. I told her right before she past that I was sorry. That is when I heard crying from another room and my heart sank further. There was Brent and Ivan barely older than babes. I decided to take the boys with me. Of course I couldn’t take a dead traitor's sons back with me. They’d be put to the sword nor could I abandon them to some misbegotten fate. All I could think of was their mother’s weeping face. So I ran away to Godwyn Silverspear”, he said and puffed on his pipe.
“Godwyn’s family had owned an inn called the Halfway Inn for several generations. He wasn’t connected with the Zhentarim but I had used his... ‘expertise’ for several years. He’s still the only man to this day I’ve ever trusted and call friend. Godwyn was able to find this keep abandoned and forged papers legitimizing my inheritance of the property.”, he said and took a long pull of his pipe again.
“That’s also when your mother came to my doors. You were tiny and swaddled in a blanket. Fresh from your mother’s womb. Hell is no place for such an innocent child. Though it pains me she’s better off with you, that’s what your mother said. She was tender and caring of you. Something you’d think was unbecoming of a devil. Harbor no ill will towards your mother. She did what was best for you and leaving you must have been hard”, father paced the room.
“Life was hard before but raising three young children alone was a new challenge! Bachelor to a full time father nearly overnight, but worth it. I’d do anything for you and your brothers. This is my amends for the lives I’ve taken”, he said. This had been the most I think I had ever seen my father speak at once! I didn’t have any time to digest this new information because we heard outside the sound of an approaching horse. Father peered out from the side of the window.
“Godwyn is early’’, he said and began heading downstairs.
“Godwyn? Here?”, I said in confusion and followed behind him.
“Aye, I messaged him earlier. Said it was urgent”.
Father went outside to greet our guest and I stayed behind in the doorway. Normally I was forbidden from being seen by strangers. The two greeted each other in a familiar long time no see sort of way. They clasp hands that turned into a shoulder hug. They spoke for a moment in a hushed tone and I was unable to hear what was being said. Finally, father raised his hand towards me.
“Come girl, meet our guests”, he said to me. I shyly made my way over. Godwyn walked besides a large mule and a young man close to my age sat astride the beast. Godwyn was a burly man with wild mostly white hair and a long thin beard of the same color.
“Aye Thatcher this is yer girl huh?”, he looked at me and smiled showing a row of yellowing teeth. “A bit flat chested ain’t she?”, he said over his shoulder at my father. From on top the mule I saw the young man look from my wings to my chest. I flushed and crossed my arms.
“This is my youngest lad Lucian. Figured I bring him since he’s close to yer girl’s age. Anyway let me stable this old gal and we’ll get started on business aye? Come Winifred”, Godwyn said and headed to the stable.
I looked up at father with a raised eyebrow, “He’s really your best friend?”, I asked. He shrugged.
“Aye, slim pickings I suppose. Val, why don’t you get started on a meal”, father asked. I rubbed my tired eyes and nodded.
Over the next hour we ate and they discussed how they would dispose the bodies of the Zhent men. Father worried that they had discovered his whereabouts. Godwyn said he’d already sent a message inquiring on any word from his contacts within the Zhentarim but he hadn’t heard news yet.
“Those two buffoons likely were asking around town for someone fitting your description and got lucky. Those two should have reported back before confronting you and by then I’d have caught wind”, Godwyn bellowed.
“Aye don’t worry too much. I’ll find ye another safe house soon enough”, he said and grew quiet. Apparently we were going to be moving. The thought made me excited and homesick at the same time.
As I slept father and Godwyn disposed of the dead men. The following morning, I decided to keep company with Lucian. He was somewhat cute with his curly brown hair and hazel eyes. He was learning a trade as an informant and forger like his father. He was also an aspiring bard. I didn’t tell him that he was rather terrible as he tried to impress me with his lyre. He banged away at the strings and flipped his bangs out of his eyes with a whirl of his head.
“It was nice meeting you Lucian. Hopefully you are the first of many friends”, I said when we parted ways. He looked a little disappointed.
“Aye Lady Vladriel, may we meet again soon. Farewell”, Lucian said. His mannerisms didn’t seem to fit his boyish looks and shaggy curly hair. Godwyn paced back towards the keep with his mule Winifred.
“Well I’ll be off then. Keep your eye out for the birds. I’ll keep you up to date”, Godwyn said as the two departed. I couldn’t shake the feeling of unrest within me. Father likely felt the same. Both of us anxiously waited for Brent and Ivan’s return. We packed our belongings and loaded them onto a carriage. The day was hot but a cool wind blew from the north taking the edge off the summer heat. It tossed some of my dark hair into my face and as I brushed it aside I saw a pigeon flying down from above. Father saw it too and we both watched it come into view. My eyes followed it as it came toward the keep, a small note attached to its tiny leg. That’s when I noticed smoke bellowing up in the distance. Exactly in the direction of our cabin.
We looked at each other in surprise. Father darted into the keep and came back with his blades and tossed one to me. We raced through the forest. I did my best to keep up but father was faster and he moved through the trees like a flying arrow. He reached the cabin and stood at the edge of the forest. As I approached I could see the fire ravaged building. By the time we had gotten there most of the walls had collapsed. In the center of the small cabin lay Brent’s and Ivan’s scorched forms. One of them had his arms around the other. I couldn’t tell one from the other for they were too badly burned. The scene was unbearable and my legs felt weak. I saw my father’s fists clench.
“We should have stayed friends”, came a cocky sounding voice from the side of the woods. I turned and saw several forms exit the forest across from us.
“Greyborn... you murdered my boys”, Father glowered.
“I liberated you. The great Black Mask turned into a homemaker. Pathetic. But I’m willing to forgive you, so be a good dog and return to me”, the cocky man who spoke was father’s age but his combed back ebony hair had far less grey.
Rage rose inside me and I let out a scream and rose into the air. I snarled again and whipped my blade right at the man’s face. It landed in the head of a man adjacent to him. “Glasya’s? Of course she is!”, Greyborn laughed and reached into his cloak then fired a small bolt at me from a hand crossbow. The bolt grazed my arm and I immediately felt strange as my body grew heavy and sluggish. I gasped in surprise as I began a downward glide. My feet landed heavily on the ground and I swayed. My father looked at me with worry as he drew his saber and short sword. He rushed forward diving under a sword then swinging his short sword at a wide angle into an enemy's chest while striking forward with his saber impaling another man right under his jaw. He twisted around and brought both swords in front of him and slashed another foe in the abdomen as he moved. He dove again as a greatsword bit into the earth where he was just standing. Father spun his short sword at an upward angle slashing open his adversary's throat. Blood sprayed the ground as the larger man clutched at his wound and fell to his knees. From the corner of my eye I saw Greyborn raise his crossbow. I went to call a warning but no sound came out. The poison had taken a hold of me and I fell to my side and watched in horror as a bolt streaked through the air and found my father’s back. He gasped and faltered long enough for club to wrack him in the head. Greyborn’s remaining men were on him in a flash beating and kicking him to the ground. He curled, covering his head with his hands. Greyborn walked past him to where I lay and picked up my head. I would have spat if I could but the best I could manage was a hateful glare.
“Do you know how much gold one of Glasya’s enemies would pay to get their hands on her daughter? No? Well you’re about to make me a wealthy man”, was the last thing I heard before the poison clouded my thoughts.