The Master

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Kuro pushed open the door and slid into the small apartment. It was a crooked mess of a home: unfinished brick walls at odd angles, no windows, and creeky rafters that were more termite than wood. Kuro's master had claimed the single bedroom, leaving Kuro to build a nest in the corner of the main room from lost socks and a discarded cloak.

The only substantial furniture in the room was a small wooden table and a large velvet armchair. The table was cluttered with a mix of the apparati needed for magical experiments, and empty liquor bottles. The chair was occupied by Kuro's keeper and master, Phineas Hearn.

Hearn was a haggard man. His greying hair hung in greasy waves over his sunken eyes. His unkempt beard failed to hide his sagging, hollow cheeks. His clothes were frayed and hung loosely on his skeletal frame, and he stank of the stale remains of the last bottle of wine Kuro had been able to steal for him.

Hearn had once been a powerful and wealthy wizard. This fact was repeated almost nightly, in drunken tales of his lost glory. "I was a great man," he would snarl. "A scholar, a professor, a man of the Courts. But it was stolen from me! They destroyed my work, stole my wealth and chased me from my home. Now the only one with the sense to treat me with the respect I am due is you, a pathetic, filthy failure." Phineas would usually punctuate those last few words by throwing something at Kuro.

Kuro couldn't recall exactly how they had come to live in Detritus Lane. It seemed that they, like so many things in the alley, blew in with the fog one night and never left. If Kuro thought very hard, he could find memories of better times, before Detritus. He had lived in a real house, once, with a yard, and a kitchen, and a room of his own. There had been a woman there, too, a tutor and nanny who told him stories and taught him letters and numbers. He could still remember her face, kind and sad, though not her name. He didn't know that he'd ever known to call her anything but 'Tutor.' She was not there by choice, of course. Phineas had kidnapped her and forced her to care for Kuro. Even so, she had been kind and gentle to him.

For the first six years of his life she had been Kuro's caretaker, and then one day she vanished. She somehow broke the hold that Phineas had on her and escaped into the woods. Kuro wasn't given much time to mourn her absence though, for the night following her escape, the Hounds were upon them.

Hounds were members of the Royal Guard. They were powerful mages, expert hunters, and utterly merciless. They earned their nickname in part for them all having dogs for familiars, and partly for how relentlessly they would pursue their prey. It was from them that Phineas was hiding.

In a night of howls, fire, and terror, the peaceful life that Kuro had known was torn away. Kuro could only remember it in fleeting wisps and nightmares, for he had been very young. The Hounds seemed to have come from every direction at once, erupting from the shadows, hands, teeth and claws reaching out to tear him apart. He could remember the fury in his master's curses as Phineas had drowned the house in fire and fled into the night dragging Kuro along behind him.

The memory of the attack may have been jumbled and hazy, but there was another from that time which was not.

Phineas searched out Kuro's tutor afterwards. He believed that she had been the one to tell the Hounds of their location. She had betrayed Phineas, and Phineas was not a forgiving man.

He brought Kuro along when he went to visit a small farmhouse in the Western Wildlands where the woman was hiding. He wanted Kuro to understand what happened to those who crossed him.

Phineas was not a man to do violence, himself, if he could help it. That was for lesser men. Instead he ensorcelled his tutor, bent her mind to his will, and had her end her own life.

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