The terrain of Sky is vast. In the most distant corner of that landscape, in a cave hollowed out of a desolate mountain of clouds, Duke Clarence Northstorm huddles alone in the dark. Slimy, lichenous vegetation hangs down from the roof of the cave and slithers across his face unexpectedly. Water dripping from cracks in the roof of the cave feed the vegetation, and then collect in cold, fetid pools on the stoney floor. Hunger gnaws at the duke’s belly all the time.

Northstorm only dares light a meager handful of lightning-grass to make a warming campfire, for fear a bigger flame will attract his pursuers. Trackers have been tasked by the Sky King to hunt for the traitorous duke everywhere and without pause. The trackers force Northstorm to constantly stay on the move, resting his weary head in one place for only a few hours before the hoofbeats of his pursuers’s coursers sends him scuttling from his current hiding place to find another. 

Northstorm’s hunters are relentless, and this desolate cave is the only place left to hide. By any measure, this dank cave is the most miserable of abodes. And yet, Northstorm does not think about this.

The duke’s fine raiments are torn and tattered now. His hair is shaggy and wild, and the whiskers on his once clean-shaven chin bristle like nettles. By any measure, the vestiges of the duke’s previous wealth and status are gone like dust in the wind. And yet, Northstorm does not think about this. 

Duke Northstorm had hoped to encourage the pitiable but brilliant human scholar he happened upon, into pursuing his pipe dream of wooing a star. The scholar’s goal seemed so improbable, so mad, that Northstorm was sure nothing would come of his manipulative encouragement and aiding and abetting, except a little chaos and petty retribution for the long gone, but never-to-be-forgotten, War Between Land and Sky. 

The duke’s deception was a simple plan, a safe plan, a sure plan, it seemed to him—until that insane little human scholar actually achieved his pipe dream! The scholar didn’t merely yearn for the stars at night, he actually went out and kidnapped one! 

That’s when everything began to spin disastrously, catastrophically, unstoppably, out of control. The gods of Sky were incensed. Vows of vengeance were made. The hapless folk of Land and Sky were terrified. And before Northstorm knew it—or could stop it—the end of the world was nigh. 

The way fate had turned against him, as well as the profound guilt he felt for his part in almost bringing about doomsday, was nearly too much for Northstorm to bear. But when in the middle of his sword fight with Aaron Nimbus, Northstorm looked up to see Empress Moon suddenly appear above the clouds, unmistakably bent on retribution for the affront to her child, Northstorm’s burden finally was too much for his mind to bear.

And yet, Northstorm does not think about this. He does not think about this because only these thoughts keep circling round and round in his brain: He is a nobleman. He is a noble man. He is the only noble man courageous enough, clever enough, and faithful enough to avenge his father’s death with a final victory in the proud and never-to-be-forgotten War Between Land and Sky. He underestimated Lord Lewis and Master Galwynn; they fooled him. But he is not a fool. He is a nobleman. He is a noble man… 

All the while Northstorm thinks those thoughts over and over again, he stares listlessly at a stagnant pool of water on the floor. The lightning-grass flickers just bright enough to reflect the duke’s face in the water. In the reflection of his eyes, there is a glint that at first blush could be mistaken for reflected firelight. But even though the duke and the lightning-grass do not move, the reflection of the glint in his eyes does move.

Long ago, when Clarence Northstorm heard of his father’s heroic death in battle, he was heartbroken. In the death of a parent, he had something in common with Charles Lewis. And like Lewis, his emotions of anger, shock, indignation, and vengeance attracted unwelcome folk of the Unseen, including a distant kinsman of Obsession. 

Although Northstorm grew up and went about his life, and although his free will kept him proof against the unseen; as long as vengeance festered in his heart, there was always an open door for that kinsman of Obsession to walk through for a visit. And now, in Northstorm’s greatest moment of misery and despair, when his free will was at its lowest ebb, that kinsman felt comfortable enough to stay and put up its feet for a while.

Despite his ruminations, Northstorm stopped to stare at his reflection when he saw the glint in his eye move of its own accord. He crouched closer to the reflection of his eyes and caught a glimpse of the visitor who tarried in the back of his mind and suggested the most seductive, but grotesque ideas. Ideas like encouraging Charles Lewis to kidnap a star in the name of love, without giving a moments thought to the potential harm that could be caused by such a sacrilege.

Northstorm looked for the glint deep in the dark center of the reflection of his eye; through what some poets call a portal to the spirit, and what most necromancers regard as a hellmouth to the Unseen; and there he beheld—Madness—his recurrent visitor, kinsman of Obsession, staring right back at him.

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