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The Hooded Prince

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  • The Hooded Prince

    *Looks around at empty forum*

    Eeerk

    *blushes*

    Guess I have to post something now... please don't hurt me




    “Oh, he has the mother’s charms, and her intelligence certainly, but the father’s predilection for senseless violence. It is a serpent neath a flower that one, dangerous, very dangerous, aye.” The old man laughed gutturally, spat blood into his handkerchief, and sighed. “The Old Baron Dallaire would be very proud.” he said. “Eirun is a son worthy of him, Urquart. What I wouldn’t give to see what he becomes.”
    The one called Urquart stared at him with dark, stony eyes. “His mother was a woman of the Corvusi, and that makes him my enemy. He may pass as a man, but his blood is as black with sorcery and heresy as that of any Corvusi scum.”
    “Are then all of the Corvusi your enemies, Urquart?” The old man looked at him quizically, a half smile on his lips.
    “Of course! What of it? Do you doubt my loyalties in this war?” The old man shook his head at this outburst, and stood, walking to the door before he turned and answered quietly. “When you are too narrow-minded, too hidebound to doubt your own? Do not flatter yourself, lord.”
    The zealous youth was left smouldering in his own rage as the old man made his exit, too angry even to make a reply. The Corvusi be damned.

    It was not long before dawn, and the youth who was the Baron Dallaire stared at its tentative beginnings on the far-eastern horizon with pale grey eyes and an expression of bored contempt. Half-formed shadows flickered across his fine, aristocratic features as the scenery raced past. In his left hand was a letter, and in his right a knife. He re-folded the letter, and cut a sliver of paper from one side with the knife, then repeated the process until the document was nothing but shavings in his hand. He then leant forward, opened the carriage door a little, and scattered them to the winds. He saw the trail of rich caravans in the dim light, bearing gifts for his forthcoming marriage, and he sighed.
    “Sweet Fury, lady of ladies, when will this thing end?” He sheathed his knife, and leant back against the seat, half closing his eyes. The open sky remained impassive, and the god so called deigned to ignore his plea, refusing to lighten the burden now lying heavy upon his heart.. Dallaire sighed again, louder this time, and waited for the sun to rise with all of the impatience and cultured arrogancethat was due to his rank.

    They said that the city of Emryss was beautiful, but that was a single word, only touching on the reality. It was perhaps the most incredible and impossible piece of architecture ever realised by humanity, and thus built in true human style, a living, magnificent, glorious tumour on the surface of the earth. The slums on the outskirts were extensive and unregulated, slowly leeching life and beauty away from the surrounding world, and their streets ran thick with filth, their stench pervading even where it could not be seen.

    Today the citizens celebrated his arrival, the arrival of their future ruler, and Dallaire wondered not for the first time of the feelings of his betrothed as he waved to them. By the time the convoy had reached the gates of the palace complex, the noise was making his head hurt. and he felt unclean from breathing the air. It was not surprising then that he gave only the briefest time to the greeting of various officials before walking at a pace that was barely dignified to his quarters in the Eastern embassy, proclaiming that his journey had wearied him excessively before ordering a bath. Much to the aggravation of the bureaucrats, he refused to have servants attend on him, and allowed the presence of only one of his own bodyguards with him, a tall, robed figure of indefinite gender.

    “The city is most remarkable, Hathir Ul Amara, just as you said. Tell me, is your nose not as keen as mine?”
    The tall bodyguard sighed a commiseration as she lowered the hood of her robe. Eyes blacker than pitch stared out of the white face tinted with black and grey. “I prefer to consider it the smell of civilisation, Eirun Ul Dallaire.”
    Dallaire laughed appreciatively as he sat down at the edge of the heated pool and pulled off his boots. “And we barbarians from the Eastern wastes would not recognize the value of such, no?”
    Her black lips curved into a smile. “No indeed.”
    “How long will you be staying in the city?”
    “We will remain long enough to ensure that the alliance goes ahead as planned. There are rumours of factions in court that oppose the marriage.”
    “News of a Corvusi prescence here could further aid their cause.” observed Dallaire as he pulled off his shirt. Spider thin scars ran on the inside of his arms from his elbows to his wrists, marring his pale skin. Amara shrugged. “That cannot be helped. They must be dealt with.”
    “Then I will trust your discretion on that matter.” said Dallaire. He removed the rest of his clothes, folded them and lowered himself into the bath. His ashen grey hair turned almost black when it touched the water, and Amara watched him with something approaching pity. There was a long, elegant pause before Dallaire spoke again. “What do you know of the Infanta?”
    “Not much more than yourself, I would think. She is a younger than you.”
    Dallaire nodded slowly. “That is all anyone knows, it seems. It stands to reason.”
    “The Infanta is an important person.”
    “Yes. For tenfold centuries the Cyan Line has united them.” Dallaire looked at Amara, who shrugged.
    “We have considered the possibility.”
    “But the holy war would continue.”
    Amara nodded. “With greater fervbour than before, in grief for the loss of their beloved ruler.”
    “From those who would brand us demons.” Dallaire ran a hand through his hair, idly shaking his head. “Tell Abayomi to send a missive to my sister. Tell her that I am well.”
    “She worries for you, then.” Amara pulled up her hood to cover her face once more.
    “My sister always worries for me.” said Dallaire. “Now, go.”

    It was not until that evening that the Baron Dallaire made his entrance upon the court of Cyan, but it was an entrance made in extraordinary style. It was between dances and the nobles were gathered at the western end of the hall, where the massive crystal stone window looked over and above the city, and then past it to the sea that streched far beyond the horizon to the edge of the world. The sun had just set and the lights of the harbour and the ships twinkled alongside the stars in the sky. The hall itself was lit by both lights suspended in the ceiling and embedded in the walls, and these lights were constantly attended to, the structure of the decoration made such that it was very much one with the walkways of the people who served it. The Earl of Thibualt had just made an amusing comment regarding the economy of Inon, and the Duchess of Pelzar had laughed far too loudly in an attempt to impress her unwilling suitor, the exceedingly handsome yet socially inept Raeyuivar Tozan.
    Then darkness.
    The stars, the boats, the lights in the hall all winked out in the same instant and not one person in the court could see beyond their own noses. There was a confused muttering, quckly rising to a panicked commotion, and several ladies began to scream.
    Then laughter.
    From the east side of the hall, a dim light emanated, slowly illuminating a tall, slim figure with pale grey eyes and hair, dressed in midnight blue trimmed with desert gold, and looking every inch the eastern magician. He raised one hand, and the lights reilluminated the hall. The herald, unpreturbed by this unusual arrival, cleared his throat.
    “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the lately arrived guest of honour, the Baron of Dallaire.”
    Highly amused, the Earl of Thibualt began to applaud. The others followed his lead, and Dallaire bowed a courtier’s bow as he moved to join them.

  • #2
    I

    Dallaire’s sleep that night was troubled, as visions long kept at bay with drugs and sorcery returned at last to haunt him.
    He walked on a path through a forest of flickering shadows and shades, and he heard them speak in myriad voices even as the cold wind chilled his skin. A great black raven flew far overhead in the blood red sky, and the place echoed with its hoarse call, like the words of the language of the Corvusi.. Snatches of voices flickered through his mind, pleading cajoling, commiserating, mocking, laughing, crying. Dallaire fell to his knees, crying out in soundless agony, and the raven screamed. The cacophony of voices continued now, some singing some whispering, closer than skin, further than sky, and again he tried to call out, but it would not pass his lips. The voices grew more demanding now, closer, thicker, louder, more tangible, each asking him the same thing, and he saw faces flash before him, too many to count, all speaking in toungues that he could not understand but that were strangely familiar, each subtly different from the last. Terrified, he pleaded with them, asking them to explain , but they could not hear him, only continued their speech.
    .The raven screamed a second time and he cowered from the shadows, hands over his head and begged them to stop.
    “Hush…” He felt her arms around him, holding him to her, comforting him as she had when he was a child haunted by the selfsame dream, and for an instant he dared believe that it was real. Then he looked up, looked at her face and he knew it was not. Birds called and water burbled in the garden made of dreamstuff that was his sister’s sanctuary from the world. He spoke her name now, a reprise.
    “Kamaria.”
    “Akinyemi,” she sighed sadly, and shook her head, golden orange eyes wistful as she released him, and he slept then.

    He awoke the next morning to sunlight on his face, and though he remembered little, a mood of despair settled over him that would not lift. He sat up, and his pale grey eyes turned at once to the robed Corvusi who stood uncomfortably by the door, head bowed.
    “What is it?”
    “High Emperor of Cyan, the most revered and holy Iraz demands that you attend upon him immediately, my Lord.”
    “I shall at once. You are forgiven for your intrusion, Issa Ul Abayomi.”
    “Thank you, my Lord.” Abayomi bowed and made his exit. Dallaire dressed quickly and left his chambers for the imperial apartments.

    The most holy and revered Iraz had once been a wise and powerful ruler, feared and respected by his subjects, but that time was almost half a century gone, and still he sat on the Cyan throne, growing in both senility and insanity with every passing day. It suited him, thought Dallaire, the emperor’s bloodshot deep-set deep blue eyes seemed predisposed to look brooding and full of righteous yet unfocussed anger in that weary, haggard face as he rocked back and forth. Dallaire felt like laughing. It was not a large room but lavishly furnished and well lit. A concubine dressed in a tight silk gown played a harp at the far end, and another, who might have been her twin, knelt on a cushion beside him.
    “Who is that?” the emperor demanded of the room from his chair, a smaller copy of the great throne that sat in the hall of Citizens, made in rainbow-hued glass. “There is someone new. It is not Thibualt, I did not call for him.”
    The concubine by his side answered slowly, as if speaking to a child.
    “That is the Baron Dallaire, my Lord. You called for him, remember?”
    Iraz smiled, and nodded to himself, making a humming sound deep in his throat. “Yes, yes, I remember Dallaire, woman. Of course I remember Dallaire. He was my friend. Do not speak to me like that.”
    The concubine bowed meekly. “Yes, my Lord.”
    “I remember Dallaire, and I remember that Dallaire is dead!” Iraz grinned triumphantly. “So this cannot be Dallaire. You are trying to trick me, woman? Answer!”
    The girl wrung her hands. “No my Lord!”
    “Do not do that!” He half rose in his seat, rocking faster, ancient hands grasping the arms of the chair, before he collapsed back with a groan. “You must not do that! You are a feeble, cringeing worm! Who is this man, if he is not Dallaire?”
    “I am Eirun Dallaire, my emperor, son of Cairn Dallaire. Do you wish me to destroy that woman for you?”
    Iraz laughed then, and had Dallaire been less his father’s son, it would have made his blood run cold.
    “No, the son of my friend. I do not want her to die just yet. Frightened little thing she may be, but she has her uses.” Iraz smiled, and patted her head with a decrepit wizened claw. “Tell me, why are you here?”
    “To marry your daughter.”
    Iraz leant back in his chair. “I remember now. Cairn promised that. Do you know Cairn? Of course you don’t. He’s dead. But he was your father.”
    “Yes, my emperor.”
    There was something in Iraz’s deep set eyes in that moment that reminded Dallaire of himself, perhaps a glimmer of the intelligence from that which had once been. “You think me mad.” he hissed, and then it was gone.
    “You are mad.” said Dallaire.
    “And you, boy, are my worthy successor. What fun we shall have! But you are not Dallaire.”
    “No. The old Dallaire is dead.”
    “So he is.” The emperor absently picked up a gemstone from his table, and held it up to the light. He rocked gently back and forth as he turned it round in his hands, entranced by the colours, his deep blue eyes still bloodshot, but devoid of anything but mindless fascination. It became clear that the concubine had no intention of disturbing him, and he seemed to have forgotten that Dallaire was even there. Only the pretty gemstone mattered as he watched the colours, felt the smooth cold facets on his fingertips growing warmer with his touch, like magic. Dallaire cleared his throat.
    “Emperor?”
    Iraz looked up, irritated. “Who are you?”
    “I am Eirun Ul Dallaire, my emperor, son of Baron Cairn Dallaire.”
    “Dallaire.” Iraz stared through him, into something beyond. “I remember Dallaire. He was my friend. I remember Dallaire. You’re not Dallaire.”
    “I am Dallaire’s son.”
    “Oh.” His rage deflected, the emperor seemed at a loss.
    “I am here to marry your daughter, the Infanta.”
    “But she is my only daughter, my only child. You cannot marry her. I forbid it.”
    “It was agreed a long time ago that our families would be united.”
    “Well, doesn’t your father have any other sons he can send? I do not like you.”
    “I am Dallaire’s only son, my emperor..”
    “You are? Oh, my dear boy. Dallaire was my friend, you know, but now he’s dead. Tell me, did he ever get that princess he was so besotted with?”
    “He did.”
    Iraz smiled, and shut his eyes as he put his head back against the back of the chair. “That is good.” he murmured. “That is good.”
    Dallaire watched the old emperor sleep for some minutes before he took his leave of him, feeling irrational jealosy for a peace granted a madman which he could never achieve.

    Finding himself loath to entertain yet more insipid courtiers, he refused all appointments and schedules set for him, and instead resolved himself to viewing the imperial gardens, accompanied only by three of the tall Corvusi bodyguards, who left him to himself at his request.

    Dallaire walked alone through archways of tall trees clad in blossoms like snow, and the great glass dome that was above the gardens casting shifting shadows on the ground. He did not wonder at this, caught up in his own thoughts as he was, and though the translucent flowers of the vines that climbed the low walls glowed dark pink, he did not deign to notice their beauty. He found a spot by a lake that seemed deserted but for the blue and silver fish that sometimes leapt from the surface, and took out his knife as he rolled up the pale yellow lace of his sleeve. Spider thin scars stretched from his wrist to the crook of his arm, marring his white skin, and he stared at them with undisguised hatred. All he had sought was an answer to a question. Was not his blood as black as any of theirs? He put the knife against his thumb, and pressed down hard, and watched the drop as it rolled down his slim white hand. There was a perverse satisfaction he found, to inflicting pain. For a brief moment, he would find calm in the sensation, perhaps the only thing that he could dare control. Was his blood not as thick? He was about to put the knife to his wrist when he heard footsteps. With a quiet sigh, Dallaire replaced his knife and rolled down his sleeve, leaning back against the tree in a pose of ersatz indolence.

    “Lo there!” The noble bowed. “I assume that you are the Baron Dallaire.”
    “I am. And you?”
    “I am Gharr Urquart.” Urquart moved closer. Obviously he was intent on conversation. Inwardly, Dallaire sighed.
    “Pleased to meet you.”
    “Oh, myself also. You are the talk of the imperial court. The ladies are quite heartbroken that you are to be married.”
    “I am sure that they will not be so for long.” said Dallaire.
    “Oh, but of course.” Urquart sat down next to him. “How else could they be heartbroken for the next forgiener that comes our way?” There was a silence, broken only by the sound of leaping fish. “Tell me, Dallaire,” said Urquart, and now his tone was far less obsequious. “Are not those curs who live beyond the borders of your barony a most depraved and contemptible people?”
    “Do you speak of the ones called the Corvusi?”
    “Yes.”
    “I believe that the Corvusi are a broken and defeated nation. What of it, Urquart?”
    “Then you hold no resentment against the ones that made them such?”
    Dallaire frowned, puzzled, as he moved his left arm fractionally, the hilt of the concealed blade dropping into his hand. “Why would I have that? They are not my people.”
    “Come, come now, Prince Eirun Ul Yorae.” said Urquart. “Do you not remember what they did to your sister?”
    There was a pause. When Dallaire spoke, his voice was dangerously soft. “If you ever speak of that again then I will do the same to you.”
    “I believe your threat is empty, my good prince.” said Urquart.
    “I do not believe myself to be without the means to carry it out.”
    “Harm to myself would bring more upon your cause.”
    Dallaire paused, and shrugged. “Perhaps you are right. You will meet me again this evening in the Eastern embassy, and I will hear your demands.”
    “A wise descision.” said Urquart. Dallaire merely laughed as he resheathed his knife, and Urquart’s blood ran cold.

    Comment


    • #3
      II

      Abayomi watched, disinterested as Urquart sat down. Either side of a table with scant decoration, the room in which they sat was unlit, and save for the figures of the Corvusi who stood there, there was nothing to be seen that was of great importance.. Abayomi was pleased as he started his interrogation. Unsettled, Urquart spoke first.
      “Where is Dallaire?”
      Abayomi studied his opponent before making his reply. Urquart was of medium build, dark hair, dark eyes, tanned. He was dressed in the style of the Emryssian nobility, but his shoes gave away his disguise, stained as they were with human blood, a small amount but unmistakeable nevertheless. “I am afraid that Dallaire is not here, Lord Urquart. He is indisposed at the present moment. You may speak to me instead.”
      “I wished to speak with Dallaire personally. Who are you?”
      “I could ask you the same question, Lord Urquart. A true Emryssian would not tolerate blood on his shoes.”
      Urquart’s eyes flickered briefly downwards and Abayomi knew that his assumption had been correct. But Urquart was not disconcerted easily.
      “You didn’t answer my question.” said Urquart, impatiently. The former head of the Corvusi intelligence service gave a sigh, and lowered the hood of his robe.
      Urquart swore. Abayomi smiled.
      “I thought you might have guessed. Now, tell me what you know of the faction that calls itself the New Order.”
      “You are wasting your time, Corvusi.” Urquart spat. “I will not tell you anything.”
      “Oh, really?” Abayomi leaned towards Urquart, clasping his hands together, fingering the citrine stone set in a gold ring on his left index finger, eyes blacker than pitch. “Then you will not co-operate?”
      “Must I remind you that any harm to my person would ultimately result in damage to this plot you have. My body, therefore, is sacrosanct, and you would not dare to harm me.”
      “Your son seems a very nice boy.” smiled Abayomi.
      “What?”
      “Your son, Lord Urquart. I believe his name is Brenn, yes, that’s right. He has nice eyes. Like yours.”
      Urquart paled. “Sweet- You bastard! Where is he? What have you done with him?”
      “Nothing.” said Abayomi. “As yet. However, should you remain as unco-operative as at present.. .” he left the threat hanging.
      There was a silence. Abayomi said nothing further. “I cannot. I must not. Have you not heard the prophecy? Let not the line of Cyan be tainted, for it is that that shall bring destruction upon all of creation. In this matter, the fate of the world is in the balance.”
      “The fate of my people also. And now your son.”
      “Is the slight continuation of your hellborn race worth that much to you?”
      “The instincts that necessitate survival must run strong. Choose.”
      It was a while before Urquart hung his head in defeat. “I will tell.” he said. “What I know, I will tell.”

      Two dancers waltzed in endless silence as the rain fell, a man and a woman in deep black ballroom finery, but on their lips were the words not yet spoken by those not yet born, ideas and potential lingered around them as they danced to an endless waltz as yet unheard, and the rain fell. In droplets and spirals and impossible patterns, reflecting and refracting as it fell, from the stone of the ceiling it fell, and it was like light. Still they danced, the floor beneath them like the flat and fathomless depths, with creatures and monsters lurking there. The woman seemed to hesitate, and her step was broken, but quickly compensated for.
      “Why do we hide here, Malech, why do we dance thus? The Order rises against us yet, and with it shall come our destruction, for it shall bring sterility upon the world.” It was not word, or even thought, but statement nonetheless, and they moved ever more rapidly to a music unheard. Malech, the other, seemed unconcerned.
      “Let them come, dearest Usha, and let us perish, for they can do no worse. Even now, Mariemaia comes to destroy us, for she thinks us the last.”
      “Are we?”
      “Usha, you are a mortal and I am but a God. There shall ever be more to continue our fight.” He lowered his viridian gaze to meet her eyes, in which the last vestiges of her humanity smouldered. Fear.
      “All things must fall.” she said, and had she spoken her voice would have been hoarse. “We shall fall less easily than most.”
      “I shall never forget you.” said Malech.
      He looked at the her, limp as a doll in his arms, her dress spattered with blood where the blade of the dead white sword had passed through her body. He frowned, and put a hand to her still-warm cheek, and he heard the earth tremble in his grief and in his rage, but he was quiet. He laid her on the floor, and turned to face the killer who stood now where she had been, and he was quiet, his voice betraying no emotion even as he spoke, though his voice was heard by the lurkers in the depths.
      “Who dares trespass in the hall of Raindrops?”
      Thus the God Mariemaia appeared before him, terrible and beautiful and unchanging, and her eyes were like caverns, but white. She inclined her head to him, sneer upon her silver lips.
      “And so your destroyers have come, Lord Malech. That which you have most dreaded, for we are a plague. We shall cover the earth in that which has no shadow, and you of the Edge and you of the Law shall be no more.”
      “This is not of your ways, Mariemaia, or of mine. Why does the Order turn upon itself?”
      “The Old Order is dead, Lord Malech, a vestige of a corrupt era. The New Order rises now.”
      “A plague.”
      “Indeed.”
      Malech looked down upon the body of his beloved, and the rain ceased to fall for a moment, the shadows of the depths deepening. Mariemaia glanced at him, and took a step backwards.
      “Do you still fear me,” wondered Malech, “even after all this? You dare break into my home and trespass in my hall, yet still you fear me? Or perhaps they fear those that shall come after. You would be right to.” Malech reached out to the still falling raindrops, and drew his sword, and it was alive, lightning writhing along its length at his touch, and he danced across the water to the tune yet unheard, and it did not even ripple at his passing. Their blades met briefly, and there was a flashing of white-rainbow fire before they moved back, and Mariemaia circled him, sneer still on her silver lips, and he knew her blade was cold. Monsters moved in the dark beneath the surface of the water, even as they moved above it, and again their blades clashed, and there was music of bells and music of drums and that of voices praying for release. The white-eyed Goddess stared him down expression unchanged, and still Malech danced. Again their blades collided, and there was silence and screaming as the raindrop-blade was consumed with the crystal stacity of the white. Weaponless, Malech danced onwards, and a creature came from the depths to his aid. It’s globes of eyes were pale pink-silver, and its bones shone through its skin as it broke the surface of the water and attempted to swallow Mariemaia. With a yell of fury that Malech thought unbecoming, the God set the crystalline blade upon it, and it was cold, slashing and slicing and freezing in consuming silence before it returned to her hand, and she advanced upon her opponent once more, and her silver lips flickered, baring almost canine teeth. Malech found himself backed against a wall of stone that she made like ice, and thought of his beloved, now dead upon the floor of the hall, her blood becoming oceans. He looked quietly at the blade that she held in her hand, and Mariemaia followed his gaze.
      “She is called Azeryl.” said the white-eyed Goddess. And then he died.


      Midnight. A balcony overlooking the domes over the gardens. The hair that fell past his shoulders was struck white by the starlight, giving him the look of some decadent angel.
      “We are not all of us saints, Eirun Ul Dallaire.”
      “No.” his toubled eyes gleamed silver as they looked into hers, and she found herself unable to match his gaze. “We are not.”
      “And we are not all of us happy.”
      “So it seems, Hathir Ul Amara. Perhaps in another life, I would have reason to be so.”
      “And in this life?”
      The halfbreed smiled. “I would not relish so unusual a gratification.” He was still for a moment, staring out into the night sky, and Amara joined him in his contemplation.
      “You would grow used to it, though.” Her eyes were pitch black, rimmed with thick lashes that made them seem too big for her face.
      “Yes, and doubtless tire of it as quickly. Love is a transient thing.”
      She did not look at him. “Perhaps. Doubtless you tire of that also. You think like a human, Eirun Ul Dallaire.”
      “Other Corvusi say that also. Humans say I think like a Corvusi.”
      “And what do you say, my lord?”
      “That all refute my claims that I am far superior to both.” said Dallaire. He saw her smile, but she said nothing in reply and so he left her on the balcony overlooking the incredible domes that spanned above the gardens of Emryss, watching the stars.

      Comment


      • #4
        Another night, another dream, another time, another place. Still they haunted him, still they hunted him, demanding of him in languages that he could not understand, closer than skin and further than stars, and still he fled them, and still the great black raven screamed, and still he awoke to sunlight on his face, remembering little. Only a faint sense of disquiet prevailed.
        On the table beside his bed was an envelope, sealed with his sister’s seal, a three headed bird with outstretched wings perched upon a cross. He opened it. On the carefully folded parchment inside was written only a single word, in his sister’s hand.

        Liar.

        He took his knife to that one also.

        The next few days passed, uneventful, while all the while excitement regarding his imminent marriage to the Infanta Eos Astrea grew. Dallaire became more withdrawn, more irritable and contemptuous of the people around him. Amara knew that she was not the only one to notice the fresh scars on his wrists, but she said nothing.

        On that day, the people filled the galleries and walkways in the great hall, and the streets around the palaces seethed with yet more of them, representatives from every corner of the empire come to witness the event. Dallaire was flanked by two black-cloaked corvusi as he walked the short distance from the embassy to his carriage, pulled by two enormous blue sentinel lizards, the totem creatures of the eastern desert barony. They looked fatigued and bewildered at being taken so far from their natural habitat, and Dallaire paused to put his hand on the male’s neck as he passed them by. The creature looked at him wearily and made no sound, its eyes dull.
        The crowds cheered, and Dallaire thought that his head would split as they progressed at an excruciatingly slow pace through the streets. With a sullen perseverance, he smiled and waved. Despite the driver’s best efforts, the lizards did not pick up their pace. Dallaire felt increasing empathy with them. The atmosphere in Emryss was thick with the fumes of incense and smoke, and he could hardly breathe for the stifling heat.

        The convoy arrived at the gates of the imperium hall, and Dallaire knew that he would have to proceed further on foot. The two Corvusi left him here, their heads bowed as they melted effortlessly into the ecstatic crowds. It was a pivotal moment. All that Dallaire had ever known or loved seemed to emulsify in his head to a single, dead weight that he would carry. He walked as a man dreaming, the shades that haunted him as ever at the edge of his sight. The crowds screamed.

        And the sword screamed. It had no master but itself, he was sure of that now. He carried it dripping with the blood of his kinsmen as he progressed through the parting of demons.
        Dallaire blinked, dazzled by the light that shone through the crystalline window. The Infanta stood before the sunlight at the top of the steps, casting a long shadow. Dallaire though he saw Iraz, leering from a private gallery, and wondered if all of the emperor’s servant girls looked the same. Perhaps they were cloned. The thought brought a smile to his face, and the Infanta smiled back. He realised that she was perhaps ten years younger than himself, but that no longer mattered.
        “Most radiant, beautiful, and honourable Infanta.” he bowed low, appreciating the sense of theatre on this occasion. “I am Eirun Dallaire, Baron of the Eastern Wastes, and I have come from there to request your hand in marriage.”
        The Infanta looked at him as he knelt in supplication at the lowest step, and had he not known better, he would have thought her Corvusi at that moment. Her eyes were blue, but nearly black, and too old for a child her age. A doubt struck him.
        “Eirun Dallaire of the Eastern wastes, what makes you think that I will consent to be your wife?” It was a doubt no longer, but a certainty in his mind, and a fascination.
        “You will not be my wife, but my Empress.” he assured her.

        There was a tussle among the assmebled onlookers, and shouting from outside. Dallaire turned.
        “For the Glory of the White Lady!” Three zealots of the New Order, dressed in robes of white and silver emerged, their faces covered and their sabres painted white. The halfbreed felt a pang of irrational fear. Guests fled as they carved a bloody swathe through the crowd. The guards up in the galleries fired arrows at them, but to no avail. The creatures bled, but still they fought, as if soulless. The Infanta stood stock still, her eyes shut tight and her hands clasped at her stomach. The minions carved their way through the imperial honour guard and advanced towards Dallaire and the Infanta.
        The halfbreed dropped to a low crouch, a knife sparkling in his hand, and a dark smile on his lips. The three creatures advanced, their weapons raised. A prayer seemed in order, he thought as he slashed at the midrif of one. It made no attempt to stop him, and watched as its own guts tumbled onto the floor, its blood staining the front of its robe.red. Then it tried to kill Dallaire, and the others did the same.
        “Sweet Fury, Lady of ladies, mother of war, see fit to aid your servant now.” croaked Dallaire as one of the creatures knocked him to the floor, its white sword burning like ice as it went through his side. He slid away, his black blood leaving a trail. But it seemed that his luck had not deserted him entirely.

        Amara stood at the entrance to the Imperium where the bodies of the slain lay, eyes blazing with sorcery, blacker than darkness, blacker than pitch. She spoke a word in the language of the corvusi, and it was a killing word. The three creatures of the new order turned, unaffected, and advanced on her instead. Amara took a step backwards as she sought another spell, and Dallaire scrambled to his knees, clutching at his side. The earth around them trembled briefly as he focussed his mind on the task and made a brief gesture with his hand. Bits of new order minion splattered on the walls. The Infanta picked up the edges of her ruined gown and ran over to Dallaire, who had collapsed.
        “Baron Dallaire?” she knelt beside him, her small brow lined with conern. Dallare did not move. The Infanta looked at Amara, who was even more covered in b its of Minion than herself. “Is he alive?”
        The Corvusi woman moved closer and stared at him. Dallaire coughed.
        “Yes.”
        The Infanta frowned bravely. “We should probably get him to a safe place before his guts fall out.” she said. Amara smiled.
        “Indeed we should.”
        “Good. You pick him up, and follow me.”

        His dreams were darker now, more vivid, more real. He saw himself as he walked upon the path amongst the shades and the shadows, and the great black raven that flew overhead. Though the blade itself was long drawn from his body, the impression of its power remained all too plain on the halfbreed’s mind. A thin mask indeed was his outward beauty, a mere veil for the malevolence that lurked under it. It screamed his name and clawed his soul, that eternal fire of which he would never be rid. His father’s legacy, and profanity against all he believed and knew, yet it prowled there still, that fair flame of humanity that danced in darkness, beautiful and iredeemable. It was the very blood that flowed through him that gave him this. And still he stood, and still he served his people, and still he lived, as any other could not. He screamed as the imagined, unimagined memory of the white sword drew greedily upon him. It drained him of his power, and still it drew on more. His soul, his life-force. He fell to his knees, hardly keeping sanity through a mist of pain. Yet he saw clearly, through this torture, he saw something more terrible than all of this. As a reflection in doom and in glory, he saw his own face, staring back at him.
        “Akinyemi.” She called him by his third name, his secret name.
        “Kamaria.” Again in the garden that existed only in her dreams, his sister cradling him in her arms. “I saw it nearly to the end.”
        “Hush.” she stroked his hair. “The dream does not matter, my brother. You will find the truth soon enough.”
        He looked up and he saw her, as she would have been. Her eyes were golden, and her lips were black. She was attractive, as she once might have become. The Oracle of the Corvusi.“I have something else to tell you.”
        “Then you must tell it.” water rippled, birds sang, and for some hitherto unknown reason, he was reminded of rain.
        “The Infanta Eos Astraea is a Prophet. The race of man is not yet forsaken by Time.”
        “Are you certain of this?”
        He paused. “Yes.”
        “Then you must go. This is a most curious development.”

        Dallaire’s pale grey eyes flickered weakly open. “Hathir?” he whispered. Amara had been at his side, but withdrew, self-conscious. He suddenly became very aware of how incredibly beautiful she was, and put his hand to his forehead.
        “I am here.”
        Dallaire tried to sit up, only to be blinded by the pain from his side. “Get me my drugs.” he snarled. “Now.”
        Wordlessly, she obeyed. He studied what she gave him before selecting a small glass vial containing a purple liquid and downing its contents. He waited a few minutes before trying to sit up again.
        “That was nearly a lethal dose.” commented Amara.
        “Suicide was not on my agenda.” said Dallaire absently, poking his wound.
        “Nevertheless, I fear that the council of prophets would take a dim view of my giving you the means of it.”
        Dallaire sighed, and smiled at her. “I suppose you are right. Where’s Abayomi?”
        “Consulting. The entire city is in uproar over the attack. The Consulate of Lords is demanding an official investigation into the incident. So far, the only witness that has escaped execution or inprisonment is the Infanta. She’s very grateful to you, Eirun.”
        “She should be grateful to you too, my lady. You saved both our lives.” said Dallaire.
        Amara smiled “Perhaps. But it was you ho managed to destroy the creatures.”
        “Oh, my lady,” said Dallaire quietly. “Can you not merely take my praise with good grace, and leave it at that?”
        “Only if you would accept mine.”
        “Very well, I accept it.What other news?”
        “The Consulate has sanctioned the persecution of the members of the New Order faction. There have been many scenes of violence.”
        “That is not in our favour. Stop them.”
        “Why?”
        “If the New Order is seen to be persecuted, their support amongst the people will grow. Request an audience with her imperial Infanta immediately.”
        “Of course.” Amara took her leave with a bow, and Dallaire sat down on his bed, awaiting her return.

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        • #5
          “My Infanta, I am at your service, as ever.” The old Earl Thibualt grinned. “How now, what now, and thus much for greeting.”
          Eos Astraea, perched on the edge of her divan, scowled. “There is no time for jokes now. The forces of the New Order are gaining support in my own empire, even as their allies gather in the worlds beyond the edge, awaiting the next conjunction. Our time of reckoning is nigh, and the age of the Cyan Empire as we know it nears its end. We must win, or we, and all of our kind will perish. How go the battle plans, my most trusted advisor?”
          “You are not usually this petulant. We are doing as much as we can, but Iraz grows suspicious. He begins to believe that you, my infanta, are intent on deposing him.”
          “Then let him suppose that. He is right.”
          Thibualt stared at the little girl with an expression of shock. She smiled sweetly.
          “Oh, my poor, naأ¯ve Thibualt. Surely you did not think that I would remain your innocent little infanta forever? You should really listen to my father sometimes. He is the emperor, after all. It becomes increasingly clear to me that my father’s loss of sanity is a significant cause of demoralisation among the people.” here she paused. “Although, of course, he is most definitely not insane, even umours of such a thing is harmful to the wellbeing of the empire.”
          “Eos Astraea, what you speak of is high treason.”
          “No, Thibualt. It is not high treason. It is a revered tradition. In the event of my father’s death, you, as my advisor, shall assume a joint regency with my new prince consort, the Baron Dallaire.”
          “He is married to you then? There is some ambiguity in the matter.”
          “He is. The archivists could find no precedent to this case, but all documentations were signed and sealed from the moment of my birth. We are most irrevocably married.”
          “A shame. I would have married you.”
          The Infanta chuckled, a curiously adult sound. “You are far too old for me, Thibualt. You would be dead in your grave and burning in the lower echelons of hell before I was sixteen. But, if you wish, I shall betrothe one of my daughters to your first grandson.”
          “Talk no more of marriage, Infanta. It depresses me a great deal. I pray only that your children will not cause as much grief to you as mine have to me.” The usually effervescent Earl looked gloomily out of the window. “Three sons of mine your father sent to fight his holy war, and of them, one returned, claiming that their deaths had been honorable and glorious, claiming that I should have been glad that they had died. In truth, I would have been gladder that he had died, and his foolish zeal with him.”
          The Infanta looked thoughtful. “The Corvusi could be valuable allies against the New Order.”
          “What? But we have fought to exterminate them for centuries now. People will start to turn against the throne.”
          “People have already started to turn against the throne.” she reminded him.
          “In any case, the Corvusi would never agree to aid us. They are not human, and they have little interest in our affairs.”
          “They have an interest in the affairs of this world.” argued the Infanta. She paused, looking into the distance, and bit her lip. “We are having a visitor.” she said. “The guards outside are talking.”
          “Who is it?” asked Thibualt.
          The Infanta looked strangely unsettled. “I do not know.”
          “Your futuresight is failing you again?”
          “I told you. I don’t know.”
          Thibualt nodded. He knew the Infanta well enough to know that a blind spot in her prescient visions was more than a cause for concern. Only the soulless minions of the New Order had been hidden from her before. There was a knock on the door to the chambers.
          “Come in.” called the Infanta.
          The tall bodyguard entered, the hood of her robe hiding her face. “I am here on behalf of the Baron Dallaire. He requests an audience with you.”
          The Infanta glowered darkly. “that was not a surprise.” she said. “You were a surprise. Why?”
          The Corvusi woman looked taken aback by this question. “What do you mean? I sent no forerunners to you, I did not feel that they were necessary.”
          “No! Why do you cloud my vision? I did not know that you were going to say that, there is nothing but darkness around you!” Her dark blue eyes opened wide, and roved the room, searching.
          Amara frowned, and looked at Thibualt. “Perhaps I had better leave. My presence here seems to be disturbing the Infanta.”
          Thibualt nodded, and Amara bowed her way out. She was halfway along the corridor before she heard the Infanta’s wail.
          “Damn you Thibualt! I AM NOT A CHILD!”
          The time was now.

          Iraz looked out across the expanse of ocean, brooding over fragments of memory as the waves moved on the surface of the ocean, tipped with foam from the lips of madmen, they were white, white as her eyes, white as the lady’s eyes, white as the lady’s eyes that stared into his own even as they drank his soul. He shuddered. No. A sorcery. Nothing else. It was all sorcery, all trickery. Everyone was against him, staining the hands of their assasins with dark red blood even as they wore their hearts so white, white as her eyes, white as the lady’s eyes, white as the eyes that stared into his own even as the touch of her silver metal lips broke his mind and his memory into a thousand fragments, all glittering like mirrors. Trickery, sorcery, all of it. Everyone was against him. Even his own daughter was against him, hers was an amition cultivated over a hundred generations, and she would have forseen his death long ago, even as he had. In her arms, which were white, white as her eyes, white as her eyes, which widened in pain even as she gave him the heir to the empire, that gift for which he had sold his soul, so long ago. Trickery, sorcery and lies.

          He knew his assasin, heard her footsteps on the thick carpet of his chamber. Was this the death for which he had begged in vain, come at last?

          “Hathir?” he called her, though he did not turn to face her. He knew her purpose.
          “Eirun Ul Yorae, of the line of high princes, son of Aziza, I am Hathir Ul Amara, assasin and Unprophesied, sent here to kill you.”
          He smiled slowly. “I had guessed as much. Why now?”
          “The Infanta is a prescient. She sensed that I was hidden from time. She would have told you.” Amara gripped the knife tighter.
          “Why did you aid me in the Imperium?”
          “I believe that it is as you said. The death of the Infanta would only speed the demise of my people, whether we were to blame or not. It is only you that we want dead.”
          “And why is that?”
          “Because you are a halfbreed and monstrosity. You are an abomination and you must die."
          "You believe that?"
          "I must bring on that death.”
          The final words of the assasin’s creed. He waited for her to strike him down, a thousand voices chanting in his ears.

          Do not-Cannot-Black-Must not-Should not-Never-Please-The shadows-Do not-Do not-Infernal-Please-Must not Please-Make-Before you-Do not- Cannot-Make-Black-Please- Sword- Damned- Sword- Should not- Never- Please- Must not-Do not take it-Please- Do not- Do not- Do not-Do not-Take it-Please-Cannot- It is- Do not- Two dancers - Please-Cannot- It is- Do not- Sword- Damned- drifting sunless through the empty depths of space- Never- Please- Must not-Do not take it-the city of sanctuary was beautiful as ever, and I should have- Should not-Never-Please-The shadows-Do not-Do not -I carried the simple steel sword dripping in the blood of his, my kinsmen as I - Do not-Cannot-Black-Must not-Should -she fell and I knew then that- Please-Must not Please-Make- face oblivion without fear, but to- Do not- Sword- Damned- Sword- Should not- Never - knew the silent angel risen – Black-Please- Do not-Do not-Take it-Please-Cannot -jade clad warrior, armour- Never-Please-The shadows-Do not -grinned at me with perfect, feral teeth- Make-Black-Please- Do not-Do not-Take it-Please-Cannot- It is silence as the rain fell – Cannot- Death- Do not-Do not- Please-Dark-Dark-killing in the name of a god so -Sword– babylon come to – Two dancers - Please-Cannot- It is- Do not- Sword- Damned- drifting- and a woman in – justified? What is this but – Do not-Do not-Take it-Please-Cannot- It is- Do not- see the night forever dreaming – dreaming -Cannot -jade clad warrior, armour- Never-waltzed in- Cannot-angel risen – Black-Please- Do not-Do not-Take it- ideas and-Never Do not- such knowledge- Black-

          The killing blow did not come. Amara dropped the knife, and stared at it in incomprehension as it landed, her hands trembling. She dropped to her knees before him, and buried her head in her hands.
          “I am sorry.” she whispered. “I am sorry, Eirun. I have failed.” Wordlessly, Dallaire knelt down beside her, and handed back the knife. With trembling hands she took it from him, and she removed the top half of her robe, letting the point of the knife rest upon the white skin between her breasts, over her heart, preparing for her own death, as was her duty. She gripped the hilt with both of her hands, but still she shook. Dallaire shook his head, and placed his own slim hands over her own.
          “Take my life.”
          There was a perfect silence, more elegant than the stiletto blade that they held between them, and more potent.
          “No.” He pulled the knife away from her, and it clattered against the nearby wall. He clasped her hands tightly in his, and she could not pull free. “What makes you think you have a right to die?” She stared at him in shock, and he kissed her, once, because he ached for her, and he whispered in her ear. “This never happened.”
          She stared at him, momentarily shocked. “This never happened.”

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