The Maiden of the Mirthless Smile

The Master Strategist

Quote: They’ve taken the bait. Send the nemissary-raitons to signal the envelopment.

The youngest member of her Circle, the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile is also its cruelest and, alone among them, deliberately sought the unholy power she now wields. The Maiden was born in the outskirts of Thorns, the pampered youngest daughter of a wealthy plantation owner. Even as a toddler, there was something indeterminately wrong about Shanku Kenda. She would stare at her slave nanny like she stared at her toys. As soon as she could walk, her parents began to find small animals she had captured and toyed with, often still alive with various organs half removed. First it was mice and cats. Then her brother went missing, only six at the time and scarcely a year older than her. He was never found. But she learned. It wasn’t that anatomy itself interested her. She wasn’t fascinated by how things worked. Just by pain.

Kenda’s nanny was the next to disappear when the girl was strong enough by age 12 to carry out the murder. All the while, Kenda’s parents never suspected. They underestimated her and bought her pretty dresses that she dutifully wore and learned to clean the bloodstains from. Fooling them became a game, and she planned a thousand different murders for them that she managed to avoid only by venting her growing resentment on other prey. In adolescence, she heard stories of the conquest of Thorns and the Deathlord who now reigned there, and in those stories, she finally found a hope bigger than her next kill.

One night, Kenda decided it was time and butchered her family. Her mother was the last to die with a look of astonished horror on her face that makes the Maiden giggle to this day. After setting fire to her childhood home, the gawky teenager set out to find the Deathlord who would become her master. He sensed her from afar, of course, and was intrigued at this child who strode into darkness unafraid and unburdened by conscience. And then he found something else, something remarkable. The Neverborn already spoke to her. The hissing murmur of their hate echoed in her head, faintly but undeniably. Her Essence bore no sign of ghost ancestry or necromantic contamination, leaving him at a loss to explain her communion, but he was not about to argue with an obvious sign from his masters. He met her personally before she reached the edge of his domain, ordering her stop and speak with him lest she be destroyed.

In the face of this great and terrible horror that was neither so terrible nor great as she had hoped in her dreams, Kenda smiled her perfect smile and walked on until his glance seized her heart and dropped her in a convulsing heap. Marveling at her dedication, if not so much at her prudence, the Deathlord rescued her on the brink of her last heartbeat with the offer of Exaltation. The tainted power slid into her soul as neatly as if it had been crafted for the purpose.

Since that night, she has served as the least subtle instrument of the Mask of Winter’s will, his mailed fist to crush all who would gainsay him. If his Maiden is rash at times and seldom sees the long-term benefit in postponing her violence, at least he cannot fault her zeal. The time will almost certainly come when the Deathlord must punish her failure with torments even she cannot imagine, but the withered vestiges of his compassion hope that time is yet far off. He also fears the Neverborn have plans for the Maiden that they have not shared with him, plans that may not even involve him. Such plans cannot be good for anyone.

The Maiden of the Mirthless Smile

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