Thomas J. Lauser

Sequel to

Business of Change


Venomar hated executions. Not the practice itself, but performing them. Nonetheless, he viewed sentencing war criminals, traitors, and deserters as one of his most important duties as Arkresh of the Seragorn. No one else, he believed, should have to bear the great burden of forever silencing a former battle-brother. Especially when the battle-brother in question happened to be Venomar’s longtime second in command.

He stood in the entryway of Vakera’s Barracks, waiting for Otak Vok’Ul, Pillager of Palmeria, to be brought over from Kaddek Prison. A massive crowd had gathered outside the building. They enveloped the platform in front of the barracks like ants around a piece of discarded fruit, chanting “betrayer,” “butcher,” and “coward,” as they gleefully anticipated Otak’s arrival.

Tradition dictated that Seragorn were to be executed before an audience of their peers so they could have a final chance to repent their crimes. Even as a follower of the Old Code, part of Venomar wanted to deliver this particular death sentence in private. Beheading Otak in public seemed more like an acknowledgement of failure than the delivery of justice.

“Ven. He’s almost here,” said Bazra Gul’Dor, his Tahtos, or bodyguard. She stood at the barrack’s doorway, keeping an eye on the throng of Seragorn for any signs of trouble.

“Did they bring him in the carriage, as ordered?” Venomar asked.

“Yes,” Bazra replied after letting out a sigh. “And the guards you sent with it appear to be keeping the ruffians away.”

“Good. Even in death, the man deserves his dignity.”

“He betrayed you,” Bazra snapped. “You’ve been far too gracious to him.”

“Early in our rebellion, few were as devoted to our cause as Otak,” Venomar said as he strode towards the doorway. “He bled for us in many battles. Brought us several victories. Though his actions in Palmeria were unforgivable, he was a true Seragorn once, and has earned his right to a final plea.”

Bazra shook her head and stepped out onto the platform.

“They’re here.”

“Then let us be done with this dreadful business.”

Venomar walked out onto the platform in front of Vakera’s Barracks dressed in the customary armor of the Arkresh – black and silver with a flowing crimson cape. A thick, braided black beard adorned his face, and he had dark hair shaped into dreadlocks that extended down past his shoulders. His eyes were violet and sorrowful, his skin was light green, and on his back he carried Liberator – his famed battle axe.

The crowd applauded his entrance, welcoming him with cries of “Gatos’Mar, Arkresh,” meaning “May life bring you victory”. Venomar responded to his people with a raised fist and a smile. Bazra and three Clan Guldara warriors dressed in dark green armor escorted him over to the chopping block. There, he stood with his hands folded, waiting for Otak to be brought before him.

A carriage pulled up next to the platform stairs. Two city guards opened the vehicle and dragged a disheveled, haggard Seragorn out into the streets. He had long, filthy red hair, and a layer of dirt coated his olive green flesh. The Arkresh remembered a time when Otak had been the heartthrob of many a young Seragorn woman. Rumor had it that several of the Guldara Clan’s most sought after bachelorettes had asked for his hand in marriage. But Otak chose to devote his life to the cause of his people, and believed a family would only distract him from his duties. Now, he approached Venomar as a betrayer dressed in the clothes of a beggar.

As the guards walked the traitor up the platform stairs, his dark eyes met Venomar’s. The Arkresh took a deep breath and lowered his head. He had fought alongside this man countless times. Played Quippa, drank, and celebrated with him. Could he really go through with this?

“Is this how you treat your battle-brothers, Venomar?” Otak snarled after the guards placed his head down on the block.

A volley of tomatoes came flying from the crowd. Venomar raised his left hand, and a grey aura enveloped his fingers. Immediately, a gust of wind encircled the oncoming fruit. As a shaman, the Arkresh had control over the elements of fire, earth, water, and air. Otak shared these abilities, but his hands were bound by chains made from Mahtakan, a unique metal that suppressed the abilities of magic-users. The crowd booed. Behind him, Venomar heard Bazra openly protesting his actions. He ignored both parties, and with a wave of his hand, the fruit dropped to the ground.

“Brothers and sisters of the Seragorn! People of Arkera! Today, we pass judgment on Otak Vok’Ul, who defied my orders during the taking of Palmeria. May the Gods and the ancestors watch over us,” Venomar shouted. The crowd cheered. Their eyes dripped with bloodlust. Venomar’s stomach turned over in disgust. He could think of no reason to celebrate this unfortunate necessity.

Venomar walked around to Otak’s side and pulled out Liberator, drawing a thunderous ovation from the masses.

“Otak. Under your leadership, the 4th Kadosh of the Guldara Clan disregarded my orders and brought total war to the citizens of Palmeria. After taking the city, you personally sanctioned the slaughter of countless civilians. Innocents who play no part in our conflict with the Claudian Empire.”

A silence fell over about half the crowd—it seemed they were no longer certain they agreed with Otak’s death sentence. The rest, however, continued to voice their approval.

“For your crimes, Otak, I sentence you to death. Have you anything to say to your fellow Seragorn before you are greeted by The Formless One and entered into the Divine Gamble? Something to redeem yourself in the eyes of the Gods and ancestors?” Venomar said as he gripped Liberator tightly.

“I did what I had to do. The Claudians deserve no mercy. Your cowardice will be the end of us, Venomar!”

Another round of fruit hurdled towards Otak’s face. This time, Venomar did not stop it. A tomato hit Otak right in the head, covering his face with red goo.

“Then to Octavarius I send you,” Venomar said, his voice wavering. He hesitated for a moment as memories of Otak flooded his mind. Then, just as he hoisted his weapon into the air, the traitor spoke once more, forcing the Arkresh to stop.

“I want the Divines to speak for my actions. I demand Fantakka’Ferah!” Otak shouted, looking right up at Venomar. The crowd erupted with excitement once more. Few things thrilled the Seragorn more than a trial by combat.

“The Divines will speak clearly, Otak,” Venomar said, as he lowered Liberator. “They will speak for me.”


Hours later, Venomar took practice swings at a straw dummy in the armory of Goredemar’s Arena while he waited for his duel with Otak to begin. Bazra stood behind him, and six Arkresh Elite kept watch around the room. As he repeatedly plunged Liberator into the dummy, causing bits of stuffing to fall to the floor, his mind wandered.

A decade earlier, Venomar led his people to victory over the Claudian Empire, a nation of humans that enslaved most green-skins a thousand years earlier. Under his guidance, the Seragorn reclaimed half of their ancestral homeland, reestablished their nation, and freed countless green-skins from the bonds of Claudian oppression. During that time, Otak served as one of the Arkresh’s finest generals. When the conflict ended, Venomar promoted Otak to the rank of Kadhan, or “Second to the Arkresh,” in honor of his accomplishments.

Despite the Seragorn victory, there remained work to be done. The Claudians still held North Avarad, a traditional green-skin territory. After all his attempts to negotiate proved fruitless, Venomar declared war on the Empire once more, and sent Otak to claim the border city of Palmeria. Confident that Otak would be successful—and do so in an honorable manner—news his Kadhan had deliberately targeted Claudian citizens incensed the Arkresh. Venomar rode for Palmeria at once, and placed Otak under arrest after a short skirmish with the Kadhan’s most loyal warriors.

What precipitated Otak’s fall, he wondered? Had he failed his old friend? Could he have done something to prevent him from turning to terrorism during the Sack of Palmeria? Who might be next to embrace tactics Venomar deemed dishonorable? The reality that others would surely follow Otak’s example horrified him.

“Ven, please,” Bazra pleaded, her eyes dripping with concern. “Let me face him in your name.”

Venomar stepped back from the dummy and returned Liberator to his shoulder strap.

“You’ve said it yourself, Bazra,” Venomar replied, looking back at her. “You are here to protect me from myself. Not outside threats.”

“This is protecting you from yourself!”

“No,” Venomar shook his head. “To allow you to take the field in my place would be to act without honor.”

The Arkresh marched over to the doorway, but Bazra stepped in front of the threshold. A mother shepherding her child from danger.

“Otak doesn’t deserve that!” Bazra said, grabbing Venomar by the hands. “His actions were without honor! That’s why we’re here!”

The Arkresh sighed, pulled his hands away from his Tahtos, and gently pushed her aside.

“All the more reason to fight him myself.”

Venomar walked out of the armory, down the tunnel, and out into the arena. Built during the height of the Seragorn Republic, Goredemar’s Colosseum had a domed roof and a sand floor littered with pools of dried blood and the bones of slain beasts. A massive crowd filled the amphitheater seats, and they erupted in a cacophonous ovation once they laid eyes on the Arkresh. Soon, they broke out into chants of “Venomar,” and “Desert Lion”. Never before had he seen the building quite this full. Even at the annual Feast of Games he did not recall it being this flooded with people.

Bazra and the Elites followed Venomar in and took up positions along the retaining wall. Otak rested on his knees in the center with two Arkera Guards at his side. Mahtakan chains still bound his wrists.

“Take those off,” Venomar said, pointing at the bindings. The guards looked at Venomar as though he had just sprouted a second set of arms. Bazra shouted her disapproval over the cheering of the crowd. Otak chuckled.

“That’s bold. Even for you.”

“I will not fight a man who has been severed from his greatest strength.”

“Then you and I both know how this will end.”

Otak stood up. One of the guards approached him and unlocked the chains. The former Kadhan discarded them in the sand and shook his wrists. Both guards then stepped away from the two shaman.

“With all the ancestors damning your actions in Octavarius,” Venomar said as he raised Liberator.

“What was I to do, Venomar? You were a slave to them too. You cannot have forgotten all they did to us. How can you condemn me for exacting a deserved revenge?”

“The Claudian citizens you butchered. Were they your former masters? Did they sell you into slavery?”

“They might as well have been!”

“You cannot damn an entire people for the crimes of the few!

Venomar shook with rage. The Otak he once knew had vanished. Defeating his former Kadhan had shifted from a duty of office to the removal of a shade.

“Prepare yourselves, sons of Nez’Gar!” shouted the ancient, withered voice of Eyeless Zek, the arena’s Bloodmaster. He stood beside a large copper gong on a high platform in the middle of the stands. In his hands he held a Vox – a small metal contraption capable of magically amplifying one’s voice. “May Archaeus bless your blades and Mac-Lora shield your souls!”

Otak picked up his weapon of choice, an iron tower shield, off the ground. Zek rang the gong once.

“I’ll do my best as Arkresh when you’re gone.” The gong rang a second time. Third. Fourth. Fifth.

“These people would never accept you after what you’ve done!” Sixth. Seventh.

“You’d be surprised.” Eighth. Ninth.

“Fight with honor, Otak. One last time.” Tenth.

Zek rang the gong a final time, signaling the beginning of the duel. Venomar had defeated Otak in countless sparring matches, but this battle would be far different. Such contests did not allow magic. The Arkresh knew he could best Otak in close quarters, but his opponent had the magical edge. Few shaman could outcast the former Kadhan.

Venomar charged, his axe held behind him. Otak aimed at his right hand at the oncoming Arkresh and a barrage of fireballs came flying from his fingertips. The first missed and landed a few feet behind Venomar, combusting in the sand. The Arkresh dodged the second, but the third exploded directly in front of him. Flames burst in all directions, and the force of the blast sent. Venomar hurdling backwards. With a thud and a crunch, he landed hard and let out a cry of agony.

Much of the crowd fell silent, shocked that Otak had taken the upper hand. Venomar groaned and picked himself up off the ground. The fire had singed his armor, and his left elbow throbbed in pain. He looked across from him to see his former Kadhan twirling his right hand in a circular motion as sand and orbs of brown magic danced in the air around him.

Otak then made a fist, and the magical orbs shot down into the earth. Seconds later, three Stone Elementals rose up from the ground. Each had four arms and hovered above the sand. They sped toward Venomar at once, swinging their fists wildly as they moved.

The Arkresh raised his left hand and a blue aura gathered around his fingertips. He then unleashed a three-pronged blast of lightning at the Elementals. The azure, jagged streams struck each of the constructs, turning one to dust and temporarily stunning the other two. Seizing the opportunity, Venomar gripped Liberator and rushed at the Elementals.

Venomar delivered an overhead strike to the first Elemental he encountered, reducing it to nothing more than a pile of rocks on the arena floor. He spun around, and attempted to hit the last construct with another swing. But by then, the Elemental was no longer stunned, and managed to dodge the attack.

It came back at the Arkresh right away, punching at him with all four of its fists. Venomar managed to block the first few strikes, but eventually, one of the Elemental’s blows caught him flush on the face. He stumbled in the sand, his vision dazed and his jaw alight in agony. The construct then delivered two follow-up strikes to the Arkresh’s gut, breaking a few plates of his armor and causing him to fall further back. With a grunt, Venomar swung Liberator widely, cutting the Elemental across the body and providing him with much needed space.

Venomar pushed his advantage, slicing at the construct in rapid fashion until it fell apart and crumbled into the sand. The crowd chanted the Arkresh’s name. His jaw, elbow, and chest throbbed with pain, but he had dealt with such wounds before. He raised Liberator again, planning to charge. A glance over at Otak stopped those intentions immediately.

Otak shook violently as he channeled a powerful spell. A large orb of chaotic, churning magic gathered between his hands. The former Kadhan then aimed his palms at Venomar, sending a focused beam of lightning in his direction. Venomar had once seen Otak use this attack to tear through the wall of a Claudian keep. If it hit him, the Arkresh knew the duel would be over. The Seragorn would have a new leader, and all his work would be for naught.

Venomar tossed Liberator aside and cupped his hands together. A wall of flame erupted from the ground, shielding the Arkresh from Otak’s lightning beam. Goredemar’s Arena trembled as Venomar struggled to keep up the bulwark of flame. If he managed to hold off this spell, he knew his own magical abilities would be spent. He hoped the same fate would befall his opponent.

The Arkresh roared as he pushed forward, channeling all his energy in a desperate attempt to keep Otak’s assault at bay. He fell to his knees as the stress of the spell started to weigh on him. Sweat covered his face, his hands ached, and dizziness began to flood his senses.

Just then, Venomar felt the pressure on his fire shield begin to lessen. Slowly, he stood up, and pressed onward as Otak’s beam continued to wane in strength. Finally, it vanished entirely. The Arkresh lowered his wall of embers to see his former Kadhan down on his knees. He wheezed heavily, and stared at Venomar with eyes full of regret.

The audience exploded with delight as Venomar marched onward. Weakened from the arcane standoff, he moved slowly. Liberator in hand, he resembled a giant, lumbering specter of death.

Over in the stands, Eyeless Zek nodded with approval. Seragorn citizens, especially the clanless, who made up a significant portion of the crowd, did not have the pleasure of witnessing a duel between two top-flight shaman often.

“End it, Venomar! You’ve won,” Otak moaned. The Arkresh spit blood from his mouth. It had been pooling in his gums since the Elemental hit him in the jaw.

“Do not die a coward, Otak,” Venomar replied. “Stand and go to Octavarius with some of your faded glory.”

Otak climbed up. His legs wobbled as he slowly drew his scimitar and stood at the ready. Venomar charged forward with all the strength he had left. His first attack met his opponent’s shield. Otak stabbed back. The Arkresh dodged. He then brought Liberator down on Otak’s exposed arm, severing the limb completely.

The former Kadhan let out a guttural scream and collapsed to the arena floor as blood poured from where his sword arm once was. All around them, the crowd voiced their approval. Venomar stepped back and sighed as he surveyed his handiwork. Back along the retaining wall, Bazra and the Elites cheered.

“Venomar, please! Forgive me!” Otak screamed as he rolled on the ground. “I was wrong! Have mercy! Give me a chance to repent!”

“You can repent in Octavarius, old friend.”

Venomar raised Liberator above his head and brought it down.


Venomar lay in his bed at the Palace of the Arkresh as a shaman and a seer surveyed his injuries. Two of his ribs were broken and he had a fractured elbow. As he suspected, his injuries were painful, but not severe. And yet, his physical discomfort paled in comparison to the horrid howling echoing through his mind.

It started the moment he defeated Otak in the arena. As soon as he stepped away from his former Kadhan’s mangled body, the Black Dog who haunted his every evening barked at him over the roar over the crowd. The infernal canine called out to Venomar like a siren summoning a sailor. It spoke in a shrill, harrowing voice as it reminded the Arkresh of his many downfalls. Failure to predict Otak’s betrayal now joined that list.

The hound’s words continued to ring in Venomar’s ears as a young shaman bandaged his chest and an old, withered seer handed him a Blessed Water potion. He tried to block it out as best he could by focusing on the presence of those around him—the seer, the shaman, Bazra, four of his Elites, and Meldah Kal’Duran, his political advisor, who had just entered the room. As always, this strategy succeeded, and in time, the Black Dog’s howling became but a faint whisper in the back of Venomar’s mind. Still, he knew the infernal canine’s departure meant but one thing. It would return later, once the Arkresh was alone and the company of others could no longer protect him. Just as it always did.

Venomar sat up, drank the Blessed Water potion and grimaced. It tasted bitter, burned as it went down, and left his throat dry. He walked over to a cabinet along the wall, pulled a bottle of Kholdros Spiced Rum off the top shelf, and poured himself a glass. The Arkresh took a long sip of the bronze alcohol and turned to Meldah.

“Any news from the Magizetts?”

“Yes, Arkresh,” Meldah replied. She had short blue hair, wore a flowing orange dress, and carried a quill and ledger in her arms. Her eyes were black and calculating, and she had olive green. “The Patamos Post is reporting today’s events accurately. They even describe your battle with Otak in great deal. It seems there is a Theraan journalist in the city.”

“I figured as much,” Venomar said. “I’ll take it. Good to know I can still count on the Historocrats to tell the truth. But what of the Claudians?”

“The usual, I’ll bet,” Bazra chimed in. Venomar took another drink.

“As expected, the Minthera Times has picked up the Post’s story,” Meldah explained. The Arkresh raised an eyebrow. “But they have made several. . . Embellishments.”

“Go on.”

“Ven, do you really need to—“

“Yes, Bazra. I wish to know what our enemy says about me.”

“They claim you executed Otak for insubordination.”

“Not wrong. But not true either.”

“The article also makes no mention of you condemning his actions.”

Venomar sighed, finished his rum, and poured another glass. After picking it up, he walked over to the large window behind him. He looked down into the darkening streets of Arkera, where shopkeepers were closing down their stores and stands for the evening. Had his actions today served to protect his people? There were few demons Venomar despised more than doubt.

“Let’s hope that the Post’s story reaches at least a few Claudian eyes. I’m sure plenty subscribe to it. Changing their public opinion of us is essential to winning this war.”

“So you’ve said,” Bazra groaned.

“Venomar, if that is truly our goal, then you really need to create a press arm of your own.”

“I refuse to engage in propaganda. But you are right. We need to tell all of Theranos what goes on in our lands, right from the source. Before the Claudians can corrupt it to their own ends,” Venomar said before downing more rum. He then chuckled and shook his head. “Though I am certain Seragorn journalist will be difficult to find.”

The entire room laughed at the Arkresh’s jest. Meldah placed her ledger down at the room’s center table and wrote herself a quick note.

“I’ll see what we can do about that,” she said.

“Good,” Venomar walked back to the table, pulled out a chair from under it, and sat down. “Uja, Yurrett, Gadosh, Jerak,” the Arkresh pointed to the four Elites. “You may go. Thank you for your service today, as always.”

“Gatos’Mar, Arkresh,” Yurrett, the group’s leader, replied before exiting the room with her comrades.

“Vartok, Atuk,” Venomar continued, turning his attention to the shaman and seer who had healed his wounds. “You did well patching me up today. Hopefully it won’t be necessary again anytime soon.”

“Didn’t have to happen at all,” Bazra mumbled.

“Of course, Arkresh. It was an honor,” said Vartok, the shaman. He and the seer then left as well, leaving Venomar alone with Bazra and Meldah.

“I am sorry,” Venomar said, his eyes full of grief. “I am sorry that I was not able to predict Otak’s actions.”

“If you would only change your policy on such matters, we wouldn’t be here at all,” Meldah said.

“Who are you to question the Arkresh’s decisions?” Bazra injected, glaring at Meldah.

“Relax, Bazra. It’s what she is here for,” Venomar said. Bazra took a step back and folded her arms. Meldah grinned. The Arkresh finished his rum and placed the glass back down on the table. “Defeating the Claudians by the Old Code—on the field, and with honor—is the proper way. I will not become an insurgent. We cannot afford to play into Imperial stereotypes. They want savages, but I will give them righteous warriors burdened with purpose” Venomar grabbed the rum bottle and fixed himself a new glass. “I just wish I had known Otak was turning down this path. I could’ve stopped him. Convinced him to stay the course.”

“There were signs, Venomar,” Meldah said. Bazra nodded. Venomar looked at them both as though they had proclaimed allegiance to The Dread Father.

“What signs?”

“Rumors linked him to the Reavers of Odahn,” Meldah explained.

“I am aware. I investigated those tales. They were unfounded.”

“Can you be so sure? After what he did?”

“You needed to hold him back at the Battle of Deepass,” Bazra added, referencing an incident when Venomar had to prevent Otak from bombarding a ship filled with Claudian citizens.

“His former master may have been onboard that boat,” Venomar replied. “I cannot blame him for his emotions. What matters is that he overcame them. We’ve all been tempted to break the Old Code,” the Arkresh took a drink and looked down at the floor. “Even me.”

“Then how did you escape temptation with Alistair?”

“A man I still say you should have killed.”

Venomar sighed and stood up from the table. He knew this was coming. A month earlier, Alistair Blackwood, one of the wealthiest businessmen in all Theranos, crash landed on the Pillaged Coast. There, a pair of scavengers found him and brought him before Venomar for questioning. Alistair’s business, Blackwood Company, owned thousands of slaves worldwide. Rather than execute or torture Alistair, Venomar showed the shipwrecked Claudian hospitality and offered to let him go free if he swore to release all his slaves upon returning to the Empire. Alistair agreed, and the two spent the night before his departure drinking and playing cards together.

“Alistair is a changed man,” Venomar replied. “He’s far more valuable to our cause alive than dead.”

“Then why hasn’t he released his slaves, as promised?” Bazra inquired.

The question had been on Venomar’s mind for the past few days as well. According to intelligence reports, Alistair made it back to the Empire days ago. Why hadn’t he released his slaves yet? If he had, the news would surely be on the front page of every Magizett in Theranos.

“I drank and played Quippa with the man from dusk till dawn. His character is clear to me. It is not his fault that he was born into a family of slavers. But now, he has the opportunity to change that. He will hold up his end of the bargain. I’m certain of it.”

“As certain as you were of Otak?” Meldah asked. Bazra gasped and shoved her.

“By Nez’Gar, Meldah! This is the Arkresh you’re-“

“Enough, both of you!” Venomar said. He slammed his glass down on the table so hard it shattered, sending broken shards in all directions. “When word of Alistair’s actions comes in, my ways—the Old Code—will again be confirmed. You are dismissed. I’ll see you both in the morning.”

Venomar stood up and shook his hand. A few pieces of the broken glass had cut him, causing his palm and fingers to bleed. He went over to the nightstand by his bed, grabbed a cloth the seer left behind, and started to wrap his hand in it. Meldah sighed and departed, but Bazra remained, her face filled with concern.

“Venomar, please. Let me stay here with you tonight.”

“No, Bazra. I wish to be alone.”

“But the Black Dog. I know you were fighting with it earlier.”

“I’ll deal with it on my own tonight, Bazra.”

“Please, Ven. Just for a few hours,” she begged.

“No, Bazra. That’s an order.”

“Then I’d best not have to wake you up and drag you out of bed tomorrow,” Bazra shouted as she marched towards the threshold. “Again.”

Bazra slammed the door and stormed off. As her footsteps faded into the distance, Venomar heard the dreadful howl of the Black Dog echoing down the hall. It called out to him, barking about Otak and Alistair until doubt dominated the Arkresh’s mind. He lay on his bed, drinking rum straight from the bottle as questions plagued his every thought.

Had he made the right decision in sparring Alistair’s life? What if the businessman betrayed him and kept his slaves?

The Black Dog charged down the hall.

Should he have foreseen Otak’s fall? Could he have prevented it? How could he possibly repent for the deaths of all the Claudian citizens Otak butchered?

The Black Dog barked outside the door.

What if Otak was right? What if breaking with the Old Code was the only way to defeat the Claudians? Was he failing his people by urging them to fight with honor?

The Black Dog clawed away at the wood.

Venomar curled up with his bottle of rum and drank until sleep whisked him away from the torment of the infernal canine in his mind.


Venomar woke up with haze around his head. Still, he picked himself up out of bed and prepared to go to work. He went over to his wardrobe, put on a fresh red robe, and stepped out into the Palace halls. Bazra stood outside the door waiting for him.

“Any longer and I would’ve come to wake you up myself.” she said. “How did you sleep?”

“About as well as I could,” Venomar replied they headed to the War Chamber, where Venomar held his morning briefings. Before they could reach the room, Iranok, Venomar’s majordomo, sprinted around a corner and rushed over to the pair. He carried a thick Magizett in his hands.

“Arkresh Venomar,” he panted. “You have to see this!”

Iranok held the Magizett up to Venomar’s face. The front headline read: Blackwood Company Frees Slaves—Empire in Shock!

“Yes!” Venomar exclaimed. “He’s done it! By Goredemar, he’s done it!”

Venomar marched to the War Chamber with the Magizett in hand. Though his trust in Otak failed him, his faith in Alistair had brought his people their greatest triumph in years. Later that day, he raised a glass not to escape or forget—but to celebrate. Though his struggles with the Black Dog were far from over, it did not return that night. Thoughts of victory, not demise, reigned supreme in the Arkresh’s mind.

Theranos had just taken another small step forward.


Thomas J. Lauser (TJ to his friends and family) is a writer and special education teacher from Wallingford, Pennsylvania. “Faith,” is his second published story, and continues the “Steps Saga,” that began with his first story, “Business of Change”. He is currently working on several more short stories and a novel. His writing blog is