Despite the injury in Radiance's own power, a tear in the fabric of his family - no spirit well had formed within Falor. The echo that had thrown Manlia from his horse had been followed by silence. There was a chance that Lightdancer yet lived.
The Sistorian cavalry had earned a few hours rest, and there might yet be many more ahead of them before battle could be joined. But they would be of no use to anybody camped this far south. It was time to move them back onto the playing field. Manlia Suren Issander rallied the Great Names, preaching hope, and led them on an exodus northwards, circumventing the Republic to attempt a crossing with what bridges remained further north. Their destination were the foothills beneath Black Sun's mansion, which would allow them to intervene in any attempted storming of the city.
En route, Manlia saw the banner of House Suren raised atop a great temple overlooking the meander in the river. Breaking away from the Sistorian cavalry accompanied only by his bodyguard, Manlia went to investigate.
(Sistorian cavalry to relocate to the ground just south of Black Sun's mansion, while Manlia enters the temple that lies near the crossroads northwest of Kavad's current position)
Maurielle New artillery shells began falling inside the city walls. That cannon fire was issuing from the high towers of the Vigil Unblinking - that is to say, from a point above the city walls. The enemy could fire almost anywhere inside the city!
Kansar A breathless pause - then, a smile of admission. Consternation, relief, or smugness wavered over her features. Which, Kansar had no time to tell.
Kata blurs, disappears - and at her feet stands instead an antelope, diamond-horned, bright-eyed. But it addresses Adjumot:
“Uncle! How good of you to join us.”
“Latif - Precious Glimmer. What is the meaning of this?”
“Knowledge, dear uncle. Knowledge and truth. Someone attacked my mother. Dawn Lantern has closed the Palace of Light. And Lightdancer received orders tantamount to suicide. I seek only to unveil the Curia, to expose whatever secrecy is at work here - before inestimable damage has been wrought.”
Before the silence had dragged out too long, the commander of the Aegis guard spoke. All of them - Precious Glimmer, Adjumot, Prince Kansar - were to enter the Palace by orders of Dawn Lantern. A portion of their force was allowed in with them - as guarantee. Kata’s Silvered Fire magi, many of them bemused rather than alarmed at Precious Glimmer’s sudden appearance, joined them.
Warily, they let themselves be escorted in through circuitous routes deeper into the Palace of Light. They were left to wait for a long while, speaking nothing to each other - nervous and suspicious Aegis guards watched them constantly.
Finally, they were taken to the Curia.
Of the hundreds of seats available, less than half were filled - but many of the Curia had answered the call of the Last Argument. Those who remained sat quiet, despondently.
Enthroned, like always, upon his high dais before the Curia, sat Radiance. A column of light, the vague hint of a human form contained within it.
Below him and to his right sat Dawn Lantern, presiding over the assembly of the Curia. From the hooded darkness of his robes he welcomed them.
Precious Glimmer - in a voice belying her slight figure - thundered her charges against Dawn Lantern: secrecy and ineptitude at best, betrayal and attempted assassinations at worst. Lightdancer’s brush with death - it was mere wonder he still was alive, and only barely. The attack on Black’s mansion. Dawn Lantern was making a move - a move to take over Varantium.
Kansar expected the Curia to burst - he himself nearly did - but there was no reaction at all.
“Lies. A web of lies, cunningly woven by my sister.”
From the very start! Precious Glimmer howled. From the very start of this war, Dawn Lantern had seen the Republic as naught more than a tool to weaken his enemies with. Who had fought the Republic in the early days - who had burned the fields of Jovinium? Without Black Sun, Varantium might have fallen near seventy years ago. And when, not three days ago, the High Palatine had urged the Seraphs to take to the field - why had no one asked themselves, “why does not Black Sun agree to fight side by side with her brother?” Because she had known: when Dawn Lantern does battle, he does so by striking at the bared backs of his allies! But now he had gone too far - more was at stake here than mere political maneuvering. Lives were lost every minute as the Republic grew strong outside the very walls of Falor.
Yes, Dawn Lantern agreed. This had all gone much too far. He would no longer allow such pettiness to fester. He would no longer allow the folly of lesser beings to dictate terms. From now on, he would rule - undisputed. Under the benign acquiescence of his father, of course.
His first order was for Precious Glimmer to be imprisoned - sedition could not be allowed at a time like this.
His second order was directed to the First and Second Passion - who had been sent by the Jahimi princess and let inside the Palace while Kansar and the others were waiting. They were to make sure the Silvered Fire regiment departed the Palace peacefully.
Manlia Carefully, the High Palatine approached the temple - why was his banner flying from it, and from a position so close to the enemy?
Drawing near and hailing the men guarding its portal, he recognizes their faces vaguely - obscure members of the Suren household, probably some lesser company. Frowning, he approaches further - and when he remembers where he recognized them from, it is already too late.
He is brought into the temple, forced onto his knees before a war-grizzled, far-eyed man. His confidence was such that even he, the High Palatine, found it hard to resist his glare. Across his back was slung a sword etched with runes. Perhaps the very sword that had...
“You know who I am.”
Leader of the Godslayers.
“I believe we have never met, though I am told you were once a friend of our cause-”
“Youthful folly! The jests of drunken students. Young men, wanting to change the world! I never… never thought it-”
“It was for real? That there were some for whom mere words were not enough? Come now, you were a student of Aurelis del Sera himself - you should know there have always been those who have fought against the Archonic fatigue. Who have seen the strength of Daimon - and known its great weaknesses. That there will always be a need for Men to stave off the stagnation of Damion.”
“There will always be a need for Man to take responsibility, to stay strong! You - you are terrorists, criminals, sowing destruction and anarchy. How many have died, because of the death of the Arbiter?” Manlia spat on the floor. “What do you want of me?”
“A mutual friend asked me to seek you out.”
No… not her…
“She regretted your meeting. She is, like all daimon, bound by her own Aspect. We humans are ever too changeable, too quick and chaotic, for ones such as her to understand us fully.”
She couldn’t have…
“She thought it was a pity. That you have, for so long, wandered on a road seemingly parallel to ours - but not on it. But she thinks your road is not parallel to ours at all - merely a great circle, that will soon bring you back to where you started. Perhaps not for as long as you walk it - not even your children may walk it full circle. But sooner or later, for all your zeal, your accomplishments will come to nothing.”
How could mere words, spoken so plainly, carry the weight of blows?
“You spoke, not so long ago, before the Curia. I was there, hiding behind her. You spoke of battle, of sacrifice - of awakenings. But what has come of that? The Thunder Inevitable… the thousands dead… even Lightdancer, so close to dead that it makes near no difference! Tell me, where is the awakening you spoke of? Where is Radiance?”
“He… spoke my name.”
“And what do you think he meant?”
What curse was this? His mind, frozen. His certainty, evaporated. The eyes of Dynkar were like the sun - impossible to hide from. Searing, scrutinizing.
“You say you want to rejuvenate the Dominion? Well then! Look there - through that window. There is your perfect tool.”
Outside, far beyond the window, below the setting sun - the Republic were swarming up the blood-red walls of Falor.
"This." Manlia let an arm drop by his side, palm outward. "This is not an awakening. This-"
"Is salvation by fire." Dynkar stood firmer, harder, eyes glimmering.
"Salvation by fire." Manlia recognized the expression. "Alexis Kata and the Sistorians accused me of such, echoing Black Sun's own words against me. And yet you accuse Black Sun of the very same. What hypocrisy is this?"
The parodies that were Dynkar's eyes did not blink, but his mouth twitched. "When Black Sun said that you would save us all by fire, High Palatine, it was as a veiled compliment. A compliment dullards took to be a threat. Such are her games, are they not? You should know better than any."
Manlia had taken the opportunity to look out for his personal guard. They still held their weapons, but dared not use them, lest Manlia lose his life. Herded into a mob by the Godslayers and their runic blades, the Palatine guard was likely as helpless as it looked. Had Folgar been here, things might be different. Though he was not their captain, he was their steel.
"What do you ask of me?" Manlia drawled, brows furrowing, missing a piece of this grand puzzle.
Dynkar stared out at the Republican invasion of ancient Falor. "I ask you to be our guest here, for a time. Hold palaver with us. As long as Radiance lives, we cannot trust you to pursue our interests. And when this storm is passed, we may rebuild. Your word would go a long way in legitimizing Black Sun, and quelling what may remain of the Lanterns."
"I need not give you an answer. It seems you do not expect me to have a choice."
The Republican cannons erupted in unison, smoke rising from the tower of the Vigil Unblinking. The attention of all those present in this humbled temple was momentarily drawn away, giving Manlia time to scan the balconies above. He caught a shadow of movement, which was just as quickly gone. His attention then fell to the central fixture of the temple - a chipped sphinx - Black Sun herself, leering down at him, grinning.
"No, Dynkar. We cannot risk him to live." said one attendant in a thick Chakazian accent, taking a step towards Manlia.
"The compact with Black Sun leaves no ambiguity, Svasek. Resume your place."
That old bitch was still holding out for him, somehow. Manlia almost allowed himself a smile. Enemy though Black Sun might be to him now, she would not allow him to be cast from the board just yet - not even this late into the game of shadows.
The Chakazian Godslayer did not obey his liege, however, an inhuman expression gracing his face. Then he began to recite. "The rotted and trembling arms holding up civilization must snap, and the Archons will plunge into the abyss of their own making. And the world will be reborn."
"No!" Dynkar swore, tearing his runic blade from his back.
Too late. The Godslayer Svasek lunged, sinking a dagger deep into Manlia's chest. Another Godslayer stepped from the crowd, visible in the corner of Manlia's eye, blade in hand. He did not stop Svasek. Instead, he drove his own weapon into the symmetry of Manlia's shoulder, massacring fabric and bone. No sound escaped Manlia's throat as another blade was thrust into him.
It had all played out in a matter of seconds. Two, perhaps. Within three, his personal guard had fallen upon the Godslayers.
"Ten thousand years!" they cried, golden cloaks swirling in the afternoon sun. All the while, the statue of Black Sun continued to leer, half-hidden by the temple's shadows. "Ten thousand years!"
Svasek turned in time to face his liege, Dynkar, but not in time to save himself. The leader of the Godslayers drove his runic blade through Svasek's sternum, as Godslayer turned upon Godslayer amidst the assault of the Palatine guard. Moments later, the full measure of Manlia's pain hit him. He vomited blood into his hands, which dribbled through his fingers. The world began to fade. Then he saw him.
The Arbiter strode from the farthest arch. Manlia remembered the shadows he had seen above. The Arbiter? There was no mistaking him... Silvered mask, etched with a tear for every Archon slain since the First Spirit. A couple of Wardens flanked him, flinging chains of light into the Godslayers and wielding them like morning stars. The statue of Black Sun shattered in the chaos.
Then the Arbiter's cold metal hand was upon him, and healing light flooded Manlia's body. He retched once more. Human eyes stared out through the Arbiter's mask. They were somehow unmistakable, tinged with a hidden darkness. "Davaerid?" Manlia whispered. Danton Redwind, wearing the Arbiter's own armour into battle. But the Wardens were-
"The Mockinglord!" cried one Godslayer, wild eyes turned on Davaerid of Redwind, who promptly felled him with a chain woven of light.
"Davaerid." It was Dynkar who recognized him. They must have met before. The wretch motioned a retreat.
Manlia's head fell back, and the rest of him followed. Lying upon his back, shadows danced in the corners of his vision. And then he saw no more.
(Manlia to be taken to the western gate of Falor, Danton to rejoin his Wardens)
Cease this madness! My voice rings throughout the hall. Dawn Lantern’s harsh light falls on me.
The Dominion is built upon a union between man and spirit. To assume sole leadership is to break the most basic principle of Common Law. You may be the Bright Lord’s offspring, but it gives you no right to spit upon our foundations, Dawn Lantern. Radiance’s wisdom shall always be spoken through the mouth of the Palatine. You have no right!
How can you stand by this heresy? I implore the Curia. The enemy is at the gate and you would play petty games of power? We need unity, not treason! My words fall on deaf ears. The few who don’t ignore me simply cast a dull glance in my direction.
Dawn Lantern’s light showers me in a crimson hue of disapproval. It is Black Sun and the Palatine that would do treason - he is merely defending the peace. The High Palatine has gone insane, styling himself a prophet rather than the voice of Radiance, who has not spoken. Black Sun is the one who has tried to leverage these troubled times, sowing seeds of chaos and revolution to further her own goals. It is because the representatives of both Man and Spirit have failed at this critical time that he must recourse to extreme measures, Dawn Lantern laments.
He lauds me for my valiant efforts and loyalty to the Dominion over Black Sun’s mad schemes. I ought to focus on the battle ahead and see the conflict with the Republic to its end. Trust, as I always have, in my superiors to do what is best.
A thousand retorts boil inside me. A will to defend Black Sun’s honour, to right the way my words have been twisted. But I quell them all. I cannot stand here talking while a war is fought at our doorstep. I am needed on the battlefield, and so I shall deal with Dawn Lantern later. I must not defy him, lest I be thrown in chains. Nor shall I follow his command, as that would legitimise his autonomy.
I shall do my duty-. I assert. -But not at your behest. I am honour-bound to protect Varantium, Radiance, and the Dominion. The Palatine has indeed overstepped his office, but he shall answer for his crimes after the ongoing battle. Until he is formally deposed, your assumed leadership would do nothing but sow confusion and dissent amongst us. Which, as you said yourself, we cannot suffer in these dire times.
Fearful I might come across as a threat, I add another layer of ambiguity. If you want me to heed your voice as I heed Radiance’s, do so under the Arbiter’s holy decree. Let a living man speak for you. Do so, and I might listen.
I turn around to leave, but find Tilan Jahimis blocking my path. He will speak for Dawn Lantern.
Serpentine fool! Does he not see the audacity of such a claim? He would compare himself to the divine office of the High Palatine, but seeks to achieve it merely by the sleight of his tongue. Even so, he speaks.
The Arbiter is dead, he reminds me. But he will humour my loyalty to tradition. He finds my distrust misplaced. It is Black Sun and the High Palatine who sought to take leadership of Varantium long before Dawn Lantern. They merely hid their nefarious schemes in the shadows while his claim is public and selfless. His light shall shine upon the treacherous and the subversives; then the truth will be clear.
His light will only blind us from what stands in front. I remark as I pass him by. Dawn Lantern may not take kindly to Jahimis’ blatant grab for power, and I do not intend to stay and await his wroth. With a reverent gesture towards Radiance, I exit the hall and motion for Adjumot and his men to follow.
As others bickered over the nation's future, men were dying. By fire and smoke, they died, bodies torn into pieces of useless meat. Maurielle could feel the heat of the cannon blasts as they impacted this once pristine city, feel the impact of the metal on ancient stone. Families had lived in these buildings, generations upon generations, since they were built she knew not how long ago. She had not been around to see their construction, and their destruction affected her about as much. Right now, she was concerned with what the cannons heralded. Soldiers, scaling the wall, entering the city shielded by an iron curtain of death and fire. They were the pike upon which the rest of the lance would be built, if she let them get too far. Contain, keep them pinned down, don't let them get the advantage of movement. Varantium needed one more wall to keep the inner sanctum safe, and it would get one, built and molded from its own citizens.
She only had so much time to get things in order. She had not expected such a head-long push, instead believing they would try a maneuver from the sides, so the archers on the walls were now badly misplaced for this. Not o mention the struggling masses she had to coordinate. Thousands, wielded with the precision necessary for such a maneuver, and done quickly enough for it to be effective. She remembered the maps of Varantium she had surveyed at the beginning of this conflict, on the possibility that they might be necessary. The image of the city, as seen from the sky flashed in her mind, a thing of pencils and inks. The wall would be formed from the bottom-right corner of the Palace of Light's own walls, stretching east to meet the eastern outer walls and moving south but stopping before it reached the range of those damnable cannons.
The Zealot Hordes and the Pikemen would form the center, absorb the initial blow. Swordsmen would be at the flanks, pressing in from the sides. Archers behind them, firing from cover. The rhinos would be at the center of the center, hopefully to help absorb as much of the brunt as they could. The lions would form at the tip of the right flank, giving it more strength. And as for the magi, she did not relish giving them the news. The Last Argument had made it very clear that any movement of Lightdancer's body would only be done if it was absolutely necessary, and this was certainly the case. At least they would not have to move far.
She approached Seda, kneeling beside the great spirit's form, performing her magics. She did not know how effective the healing was; the magi had refused to provide her information, refused to provide her updates, refused to tell her anything except that it was being seen to. And she had not the authority nor the time to force them. Before she got within 10 meters of the mage, she was blocked by a number of magi, standing before her in their coloured robes and soulless faces. Frustration at the lack of information kept her words curt. "Tell your mistress that Lightdancer must be moved back. We are retreating, forming a wall. This will be done. Here are your positions." Without even bothering to hear their reply, she moved on. At least the Fogmakers and the eagles listened to her.
(All the men starting from the eagles and moving east are to form the wall, as described above, with R3 providing a huger cloud of fog to cover the retreat and movements. P9 are to resupply and move to bombard the tower of the Vigil unblinking)
I find myself on the central plaza just in time to watch the Siege of Sistorian take wing. I am sad to see they are a fewer number than we brought. Only a few possess the physical and mental capabilities necessary to join their ranks, and even then it takes years to grow their spirits to such massive size. It will take more than a decade to retain their number.
I start heading towards the southeast gate when a familiar voice calls out to me. Uncle Torval. He has much to tell. The southeast gate has been breached, Princess Maurielle has called for a large formation within the city. It angers me that our walls would be broken so easily, but I concede the Princess is wise to fall back instead of contesting the cannons’ fire.
I turn to Adjumot, his men must find where the Magi have been stationed and be there to protect them. Once a large enough force of Inquisitors is near, they will unleash their power. If some losses are necessary to conceal the Chainbreakers until a decisive moment shows itself, so be it.
He understands. The Inquisitors’ judgement will be swift and devastating, he assures me as he leaves.
With that settled, I begin to move towards the river to find the Piscan Legion but my uncle grabs my shoulder to stop me. Did I feel it too? He demands. Twin Star’s wail. I do not need to reply, he sees it in my eyes. He wants to know what I will do. Nothing. For the moment, I add to ease his dismay, but it does little.
Have I turned my back on Twin Star? His grip on my shoulder tightens; the padded leather hardly dulls the pain. I assure him it is not so, stumbling to find the right words. Then what is it? I cannot prioritise Twin Star in the middle of a battle. Priorities? He shakes me. My hand seeks out the adorned hilt of Brilliance for strength. What do priorities mean in the face of family and spirit? Uncle spits. Am I a traitor like Renal?
My body steels. I grab my uncle’s hand off my shoulder and push him back, Brilliance pointing at his throat. I am his Prince, he will show due respect. He dares compare me to my brother, when I have done everything to correct his wrongs? No, we will not heed Twin Star’s call until the battle is over. This war is also a matter of the family. House Sistorian was one of the few to uphold the fealty we swore to Radiance in ages past. We will not disgrace ourselves by leaving in the middle of combat. Have I made myself clear?
My uncle merely nods in reply, mouth agape. I sheathe my blade and leave him there. I have places to be and orders to give.
(The Chainbreakers are to find the biggest concentration of magi on our side and protect them. However they won’t use their Inquisitor-disrupting powers until a large amount of Inquisitors can be turned at once to maximise the surprise factor. C10 will travel east through the river to sabotage the cannons right next to the water. P12 and R13 will take position on the hill northwest of the palace.)
Maurielle Chaos and fire reigns in the streets of Falor. Tens of thousands maneuver through mist-filled streets, bumbling and mixing with each other - entire companies enter the fog, only to reappear an hour later in the wrong position. But, slowly, the envisioned wall is forming.
The whine and thunder of artillery blasts scattered shots across the city. Hot shots, setting the city aflame. Soon the fogmakers’ fog is joined by thick black smoke - the enemy is starting fires indiscriminately.
An emissary of Dawn Lantern’s comes to speak with her - Wintersky is his name. He requests a meeting.
Kansar Choosing not to take part is a choice in itself. The young prince feels the calculating gaze of unseen watchers prickling his neck.
Dawn Lantern has imprisoned Black Sun’s representative, and Kansar did nothing to stop it. But none under Sistorian’s command are to obey orders issued by Dawn Lantern, either. The men are confused, fearful. The Silvered Fire are stunned, holding back. A first limb frozen by a slow paralysis, a quiet, cold war enclosed within the one raging outside - the one of fire and flame. Some laud the prince’s neutrality. Other decry his faithlessness. Llet there be a kingdom of spirit, or no kingdom at all, they say.
Not long after the prince’s party joins the confused masses struggling to form the Jahimi princess’ wall, Kansar hears of Wintersky’s passage. On his way to the east front, the emissary is reported to have spoken to several of the regiments positioned near Kansar.
The zealots laughed at him, chanting the High Palatine's name.
But the regular regiments say nothing of what was spoken. When queried what business Wintersky had with him, the commander of the Sun’s Watch had only glanced askance at Kansar’s messenger, and wondered what business a Sistorian prince had commanding good Suren troops.
Manlia Through a small postern gate, as smoke and fire spews from the city to the south, the delirious High Palatine is carried into Falor.
Word of Manlia Suren Issander's return to the city spread faster than any Republican fire. Zealots, footmen and scholar-officials flocked the avenues Manlia Suren Issander rode through, parting with reverence. A low hum started, drowning out the whipping cackle of the fires. It was the hum of prayer, of worship. Manlia Suren Issander, the High Palatine, had returned. He was not dead. He was alive, and he brought with him news of the integrity of the Lords Sistorian. He had returned to restore order. Ten thousand years. They had only just begun.
Manlia's bruised retinue made its way westwards, flying the very Suren banner that Manlia's own guard had salvaged from Black Sun's temple. Three men bound in chains trailed Manlia Suren Issander's cohort. Their clothes betrayed nothing, but Manlia knew their faces. Each of them had been scholar-officials under the employ of House Suren. Each of them had proven to be turncoats under the employ of the Godslayers, captured when Dynkar fled. Though Manlia's guard had captured these retainers and others besides, they had failed to capture any actual Godslayers. Nonetheless, the bodies of the Godslayers slain in battle had been brought along, trundled up in sackcloth, their runed blades cradled in stiff arms.
As Alexis Kata splintered off to rejoin her own forces dignitaries from the Curia added themselves to Manlia's retinue, prattling on about the politics in the Palace of Light, of trouble in the various districts of the city, of the advance of Republican troops over the southern walls, of Lightdancer's shadowy assassin...
Lightdancer yet lived. Precious Glimmer, unmasked and imprisoned in the Palace of Light. The Aegis, used by Dawn Lantern under the pretence that he had Manlia's backing.
And Lightdancer. Betrayed, but alive.
"Take me to him!"
Men brawled like dogs in the alleys, struggling to find crevices to hide in. Others embraced their end, dancing amidst the flames, calling out to the First Spirit and to Gideon His Prophet for a beautiful ending. Banners burned, casting wicked shadows through windows of empty homes. Once they had passed the length of the 'Wall' of soldiery erected at the command of House Jahimis, Manlia followed the dignitaries north, towards the encampment of Lightdancer. The Seraph was being tended to in a square which the magi of the Last Argument had barricaded with their fearsome magics. Few were said to be allowed through. They would part for the High Palatine.
At the mouth of the main entrance to the square, Manlia found that an argument had broken out. He hoped it would not be the last. Tensions were at their utter breaking point.
He found Lightdancer's guard denying entry to a company of Sistorian guardsmen. Lord Torval stood prominent and the forefront of the debacle. "Black Sun's mansion besieged, our lady driven from her home! The Palace of Light barred! Lightdancer struck down at Dawn Lantern's command!" his words hot with emotion. "You will let us have word with Lightdancer!"
Manlia strode into their midst, at first unseen, then heralded with stunned silence. "I come to you now at the turn of the tide..." Manlia began, and gestured to his company. "With Godslayers in tow. And proof of the foul influence of the Mockinglord and the Godslayers."
Lord Torval flinched, torn with some inner conflict. Manlia met his eyes, and the man averted his knees. After some hesitation, Torval fell to his knees and then prostrated himself. The Sistorians did the same, and then hesitantly, so too did the Last Argument.
"We thought you..." Torval began.
"Dead." finished a man standing with the Last Argument. It was his own Majordomo, Darien. The man was once more weepy with emotion, the same as their last meeting. "We thought you dead! Glory to Radiance! The High Palatine lives!"
Manlia Suren Issander's eyes were wet with outrage, but steady. His vigil, unblinking. "Lord Torval Sistorian. I commend you for your work here."
"Your Grace." he said questioningly. "Dawn Lantern- ah... but I am sure you have heard."
Manlia nodded, turning to his guard and the wretches in their midst. "We have all been deceived." And then the prisoners were hustled forward, and a great carpet unrolled onto the flagstones before them. An azure-clad gentleman rolled out, Godslayer runebladed clutched to his bloodied chest.
Manlia, Torval and Darien were led through the barricade. The Godslayer runeblade was heavy in Manlia's hands, his head still light from the knives which had near slain him. As they walked towards the centre of the plaza, a final wall of magi barred their passage. Manlia's eyes fell upon his sister, Seda Suren. He had not expected to find her here, though he was relieved to do so. They exchanged much of the same news as they walked, her horror mirroring his own to find that House Suren had been infiltrated so. The entirety of the Houses aligned to the Suns were likely infested with spies, like worms in woodwork. Salvation by fire... there was no saving some foundations. Smoke rose high into the sky as they came upon the ruin that was Lightdancer.
The third son of Radiance heard him out, listening well.
He heard of Manlia's conversations with Dawn Lantern and Black Sun, of the proposition that Lightdancer be elevated as a solution to their feud. And Manlia spoke of the Godslayers, of Dynkar, of Black Sun's treachery. Lightdancer often reaffirmed his loyalty to Radiance, to his brothers, to the land... but he was not so foolish as to contest Manlia's claims. For his own life had nearly been taken by the shadowy-assassin. Events were moving all too quickly... no, Lightdancer listened, and he listened well. Though he did not have to like what he heard.
"And so, what would you have me do, Your Grace?" Lightdancer asked, the music of his voice strained by discordant tones.
"We cannot challenge Black Sun now, during the siege. We can only present a united front. But the Lords Sistorian have agreed to recognize your authority, your rightful place as an equal to Dawn Lantern and Black Sun. Your voice may yet be the one to unite us, in the final hour, Seraph." And then to Torval. "Find your Prince, Lord Torval. Tell Kansar that the Lords Sistorian await him outside the city, by Black Sun's mansion. The Eclipse draws near. We will need to gather out strength, and strike at the ultimate hour. Nightfall comes soon. It might yet prove our salvation."
(Manlia to help organize the forces in the city, help them pull back from the smoke and fire and chaos and achieve cohesion)
Smoke and fire enveloped the southeastern point of Falor. Some was made by magic, some produced naturally but it all blended together into a grey haze that coated the sky, robbing it of its colour much as Lightdancer's influence had done. An untrained eye wouldn't have been able to tell the difference, so thick was the cloud.
Such a massive undertaking as this Wall did not go perfectly of course; men, women, spirits all being misplaced or forgotten. Entire regiments diverted to where they should not be. Confused messengers from all sides coming in, most on horseback though one message was carried by bird. A tangled snarl of information began to take shape as Maurielle tried to keep everything straight in her head. After some time, the picture she got was still murky but it began to take shape. It was no formless mass of soldier and spirit, not entirely. It was slowly shifting, taking on the purpose she had originally envisioned. She lived for this, truly, seeing what had once been a disorganized mob transition into something bigger, accomplishing tasks they could not before. Such a change was part of the reason she had started learning the art of war; such a sight made her smile.
Just as things were taking shape, she was bedeviled with new complications. Wintersky, an envoy demanding a talk. The High Palatine's return to the city in an injured and delirious state, prisoners, bodies and runed blades carried behind him. And in a way she enjoyed this feeling as well. New pinpricks of information causing the picture contained within her mind to change. Runed blades meant Godslayers of course; since their first appearance news of their signature weapons had spread through the Dominion. But what did it mean for them to be here? Had they planned to assassinate Radiance if the Republic was incapable of it, were they here to observe or was there some other reason for their existence.
Of course the high Palatine's mere existence caused the Wall to shift. He made others bow and kneel as he walked, cheering his name. But if the messengers were correct, he had not arrived uninjured. She did not know of what damage the man had sustained outside; there were talks of worrisome things. He needed to be guarded of course. Maurielle had been concerned that he had gone into battle in the first place. She did not want any more harm to befall him lest more damage be done to a city already in flames.
The flames must be dealt with of course. She rode through the zealots, imploring them that the High Palatine would not want to see this glorious city burned to the ground, its stones charred and its timbers reduced to ash. If they were to serve the man they held in such high regard, they were to guard this city with their lives, to protect its holy foundation. They would, with the help of the Fogmakers, moved to dowse the flames and be kept vigilant for any signs of attack.
(All the Zealots move to the front of the wall, working with R3 to put out fires and so they can absorb the main force from any Republic offensives C5 to go and personally guard the High Palatine from harm)
From the setting sun they appeared, the Siege of Sistorian, a dozen great eagles - spirit-beasts mounted by wiry Dominion magi, carrying heavy loads of ensorcelled boulders to destroy their targets. Over the bronze-glimmering river they sped towards the ancient walls of the Vigil Unblinking, powerful wings beating thick air, mustering speed.
When they knew they had been spotted and secrecy no longer was a possibility, they screeched, loud and piercing, triumphant birds of prey diving towards the ground. Servina Eterian whispered to Greatwind her companion, and his span extended suddenly, a thunderous braking against atmosphere as he plunged the final distance, great claws unclenching - the burden he had carried falling like an arrow to its target.
Republican artillerymen screamed in terror, before the crash and mayhem of architecture drowned out all speech.
In rapid succession - mere heartbeats apart - more of the eagles let go of their load. Not all struck as true as had Greatwind. But those who did were unstoppable. Cannon splintered like twigs. Great showers of bricks exploded from rooftops and walls, sailing calmly far away - with strength enough to pierce armour in sudden mists of blood. From sudden clouds of dust, Republican soldiers screamed and howled.
Greatwind was already safely away by the time the Inquisitors struck back.
Dark-swirling shadows snaked out from hidden places. Tendrils of smoke snaring wings, claws, beaks. Formless but with hideous strength, they reached into the darkling sky and pulled.
Two, three, then four of the great birds thrashed and struggled, to no avail. Relentlessly they were tugged down by Inquisitor-spun nets. Above, their free brethren - powerless to intervene - circled, echoing cries bearing witness.
It was Adavin Eterian, son of Servina, who first plunged his dagger into the back of his mount’s skull - Whitefeather was her name. Several hundred meters above ground, his flailing form fell through the air for several seconds before his body was reduced to a broken jumble of flesh, spattered across the parade ground of the Vigil Unblinking.
One after another, the trapped riders did the same.
Wailing, the Siege watched their brethren commit suicide rather than allow the Inquisitors to torture their beloved companions. Erat slew Fairsky. Darael slew Highnest. Taramin Sistorian waited until the very last, clinging to Wintercloud until his desperate wings were caught by hooks and ropes thrown from Inquisitors on the ground. Then she killed Wintercloud, and with a swift stroke cut her own slender throat.
By the time it all was over, night had cleared the skies. The remaining eagles left at last, heading north over the smoking city.
From the highest tower of the Vigil Unblinking, the coal eyes of the High Inquisitor followed them until they were long disappeared into the darkness.
The Dominion Maurielle The zealots rush forward, heedless of the danger. The fires were tough beasts to tackle but slowly, they were making gains. Maurielle focused on getting the Wall into order.
Trickles of information bled from the Palace of Light. Dawn Lantern, her own father, and much of the rest of the Curia were in deep counsel. Black Sun’s alleged treachery weighed heavily on the minds of everyone - from the smallest soldier to the greatest general. All waited breathlessly to see what the next move would be - and who would do it.
For now, Maurelle held the line. The soldiers looked to her for guidance, for leadership. Word of Manlia’s injuries - many had thought him dead for a while - were swirling through the rumor mill that is an army.
High Palatine His audience with Lightdancer was soon cut short. Seda would bear no argument, not even from her own brother - Lightdancer yet hovered on the edge of life and death. Only in the brief few minutes they had spoken, had the Seraph grown noticeably dimmer - while the world around him gained in saturation. He needed his rest.
“If his is the voice you plan to use to unite the Dominion, then you must give it time to rest - or there will be not even a whisper. The same with you, brother. A Healing is not the same as the body’s own healing - you need to rest.”
Leaving the Last Argument’s camp behind and heading for the centre of the city - back to the war, back to the Republic and the intrigues of Dawn Lantern, and his emissary Wintersky - the High Palatine stumbled, for a moment. Weariness lanced through his body, tinged with the aftermath of pain. The Godslayers had struck deep, and the Wardens had healed him very quickly.
The rhinoceros sent by the Jahimi princess as honour guard immediately halted. Healers were called for, and Manlia found himself ushered into a nearby mansion and surrounded by solicitous servants tending his every need. A bed was prepared and healers swarmed him. Faintly, he protested that he was well enough to continue. The healers smacked their lips and creased their brows, dainty fingers fluttering over his body. The High Palatine needed rest, they agreed. There was no rush - the defences of the city were being seen to by others.
Kansar Heading out from the city, Kansar saw - even from the great distance, even in the gathering dark - the banner of General Garrek flying from a small formation of Republican soldiers who had headed a ways north from their main camp. It seemed they were destroying one of the few standing bridges remaining downstreams of the Sistorian cavalry’s camp.
For now, the Sistorian party continued to that camp. Rejoining his countrymen, Kansar found them divided along bitter fault lines. Barely had he and Lord Torval arrived to camp before a dozen minor and major lords all vied for audience. Warrior kin, brave knights, honest faces carrying disgust and outrage.
The summary excommunication of Tycorro Tassar was recounted. The High Palatine’s stance against Black Sun was decried. The unanswered insults of the Republic - by (though none would say His name) Renal Sistorian - was endlessly objected.
His fire-hearted people craved some outlet, some response. There were calls for a night raid against the Republic, and others for an official protest against the High Palatine. It was as if a dam had suddenly burst by the Prince’s return.
“Quiet, you!” snapped Kavad Sistorian, his voice lent strength and authority by the remains of the Spear of Radiance standing by his side. “You are all acting like boys on their first day of arms-practice - stay calm and hold your lines! The Prince and the High Palatine have an accord, and now is not the time to question it. We must stay true to the High Palatine.”
When Manlia Suren Issander awoke, he found that the light of the sun was fast vanishing behind the city walls. Curtains fluttered in a soft breeze. Save for the smell of smoke and the sounds of lost men, it could have been any other day in a summer retreat with the rest of House Suren. His daughter Adela would be playing with the children of Vala and Jenna. Seda, of course, would not be present. Her duty to the academy had come before all else. Mother might even argue that her duty to the academy had superseded the duty to House Suren. And she would be right, much like Manlia's allegiance no longer truly lay with House Suren. For he was High Palatine. His loyalty was to Houses Jahimis and Sistorian as much as to House Suren - but his duty was to Radiance above all else. Those sweet summer days were all of them long gone, and with them had faded the taste of cherries and wine.
In their place, the bitter taste of bile. For the orchards of the Valley of Flowers were burning.
There was a twisted kind of wisdom to the Kutandan proverbs and sayings Manlia had heard over the years. "There is silence in the Library." Manlia recounted, knowing now what the retainers of the Burning Man must feel in their recitations. "And all the pages are ash."
But it was no coincidence that Kutanda had come to mind. For news had reached him that the Crucible's legendary Chainbreakers were here, under Majordomo Adjumot himself. Manlia Suren Issander hobbled out of bed, using the horse head cane that had been left to him. The sound of his rise from his bed alerted his watch, for the door opened and Darien strode in. Eternal friend, you watch over me still. Despite everything...
Darien took his hand and led him dutifully back to bed. "Your Grace."
"What a faithful old dog you are, Darien. Even now."
"Why does that surprise you, Manlia?"
His servant and advisor poured him a drink. Manlia was surprised to find that it had ice in it, and he drank deep. When he placed it down, he found Darien looking to him expectantly. "Find me Wintersky, Darien. And bring Adjumot of Kutanda here."
"Your Grace." he said, and had the arrangements made.
By the time Adjumot arrived at the mansion, it became clear that Wintersky was avoiding him. The Burning Man's Majordomo, however, had his attention quite fixed upon the High Palatine. Though embroidered, Adjumot's red silken gown appeared quite plain beside the garb of the Curia. And plainer still when compared to the ridiculous fashion of the Republic. It was refreshing. Here stood a man both mysterious and simple. Powerful, but wise. Just the sort he hoped he could depend on in this terrible hour. After some introductions, Manlia got to the point. "What have your eyes seen, Chainbreaker, that mine may have missed? I know the Godslayers assaulted your Crucible."
"I am freshly arrived to your city, Your Grace." Adjumot said, attention somehow turned inward despite the conversation he was having. "The hand that Dynkar and the Mockinglord play in this is unclear. Even to me. Perhaps, because they need do little else besides sit back and watch, Your Grace. For the Republic will do their dirty work for them. That is their brilliance."
Manlia nodded. All that Black Sun had to do to was stir the pot. Let Gori and his Inquisition do the rest. And build upon the ashes.
Princess Maurielle... she might yet have insight into all of this that Manlia lacked. And if she could be convinced to walk with him to the Palace of Light, aid him in throwing open the gates...
But when Princess Maurielle Jahimis arrived, there was no reverence in her tone. She did not address him by his rank or with the usual formalities.
"Princess Jahimis." Manlia said plain-facedly and pale. "Things certainly do not look as bright as the sun."
"Certainly not", she said, holding her hands together. "Armed blasphemers outside our walls, the eclipse a day away, one of Radiance's sons near-mortally wounded. Things are dark as they can possibly be."
"Though darkness falls, maybe we'll find comfort in the starlight." Then Manlia waved dismissively. Then he remembered how Dawn Lantern had promised to act behind his back, and had done so, by staging an attack on Black Sun's mansion using the Aegis and Maurielle. "Let's talk plainly. I would have you tell me about Black Sun's mansion. I am sure you have realised by now that Dawn Lantern played you for a fool."
"I believe Black Sun played me like a fool." Maurielle corrected. "But if you wish for talk of the mansion, so be it. When I arrived I was told I could speak with her alone. Lantern's emissary wished to join me but the invitation specified I go in alone, and so I did. I intended to speak with her, attempt to mitigate the conflict she was creating. We did speak and everything progressed smoothly, no threats of violence, no deception that I could see. As I was leaving the mansion, a section of wall crumbled onto me. I barely managed to escape death but got knocked unconscious in the attempt. By the time I came to, my soldiers had advanced upon the mansion and set it ablaze, Black Sun nowhere to be seen."
Manlia listened intently, near disappointed to learn nothing new up to this point. That aside, Maurielle had not condemned Dawn Lantern for sending her into a trap, either. Noticing his expression, Maurielle continued.
"I am not naive. Dawn Lantern may have planned for this, and likely took advantage of the opportunity this created. But he at least wishes for some stability, even if the result is an ivory tower with him placed on top. His opposite number wishes for uncertainty and chaos. I know which of them I prefer."
Maurielle seemed to have made up her mind long ago. Trust a Lantern to side with the Lanterns, Manlia cursed inwardly. I thought you would be different, Maurielle...
"If we absolutely have to take sides, I am with you that Dawn Lantern is preferable. After all, as I am sure you may have heard, Black Sun is in league with the Godslayers. But I do not think that Dawn Lantern reigning undisputed is the answer. Did he not send Lightdancer to his near-death? You must realise that if Dawn Lantern seizes power, half of Varantium will rebel. Saying nothing of the fact our chances of seeing the passing of the Eclipse alive are fast fading."
The discussion continued back and forth, but it was clear it was going nowhere. Maurielle would not oppose the ivory tower. "... in this matter I have my own doubts about your ability to mend things. You have the support of a group of zealots, true. I have heard their cheers. But you have accepted the help of blasphemous cannons sent by some foreigner, and when you return to the city you bring the runed blades of the Godslayers with you. And you think the Curia will be placated when they hear the cry of the mob that you have built? To me, this will only anger both sides against you. I will support you on the battlefield, you can be certain of that. Once this war is over I will join the voices arrayed against Dawn Lantern gladly. If you wish to head to the Palace, I won't stop you, but right now, you are weak from your exertions and injuries, and I would highly advise against such an action."
"Both sides against me, Maurielle of Jahimis?" Manlia remarked, disgusting surely showing on his face. She dared to suggest the Suns would turn against House Suren, in the moment he would oppose Dawn Lantern's autocracy? It was insulting. And even now, she would not even speak to him in the official manner. "I am disappointed, but not entirely surprised that you have chosen this path. The office of High Palatine has truly come to mean nothing. I will take action regardless."
Manlia used his cane to hobble to my feet, staring Maurielle in the eyes. "But unlike Dawn Lantern, I will not limit myself to politics while the world burns. The battle continues, and none of it will amount to anything if Radiance falls. Our final hope is to destroy the Republican camp by night."
"On that we both agree, a night assault is the best course of action. Our soldiers have rested in the city for several hours and their cannons and guns will be much less useful in the dark."
"If you lead a small team south along the walls, you might be able to see with your own eyes what our best approach might be. I would trust few others with taking such an accurate assessment."
"Indeed, with the night so dark, that would be crucial. Very well, I'll see it done."
As Maurielle turned to leave, Manlia smacked his cane once onto the tiles, briefly. "Ten thousand years." he stated, and after a short pause continued. "May they yet come to pass."
"May we endure long enough that they will."
Once Maurielle was gone, Manlia Suren Issander strode to the balcony, and the fluttering curtains. What was left of the sun was fast vanishing. The city seethed and moved amidst the shadows, as the Sistorian eagles wheeled back towards the city after their latest assault.
What have we wrought?
"Your Grace?" Darien asked, stepping into the room. "The Princess?"
"Maurielle will do nothing." Manlia managed, throat constricted. "Light damn them all, Darien. Even now, they bicker amongst themselves. I tried-"
The man came to a stop beside him, and placed a comforting hand on the High Palatine's shoulder. "There are those who are yet loyal, Your Grace. Who will see this through."
Manlia Suren Issander inclined his head, turning his gaze towards the Palace of Light. Illuminated by spirit-magic by night, the first sparks of unliving fire were popping into existence along its walls. "Assemble the guard, Darien. We march on Dawn Lantern."
"Your Grace. Maurielle has had the Jahimis menagerie... watch over you. I am not sure House Jahimis will permit you free movement-"
"I am the High Palatine. The High Palatine! They dare? Assemble the guard!"
Before Darien could leave, Manlia dared to ask, hesitant, now. "Can you get a message into the Palace, Darien? Undetected?"
"Very likely, Your Grace. A flowery entrance is one thing. Contacting those loyal in the Curia is another entirely."
"Good." Manlia said, then hesitated, hands shaking. "Get word through to my family. To Folgar. I want Folgar to take them out of the Palace. Out- out of the city, Darien."
"Then you don't think we-" the man asked, eyes wide.
"Ride ahead Darien. Do this for me. Please."
Outside, horns and dirges sounded once more.
(Manlia to head to the Palace of Light, Darien to covertly contact Folgar in the Palace, to get the High Palatine's family to safety
Those in the army not fighting fire are to rest up)
The talk with the High Palatine had been...informative. That was the most charitable word to describe it, really. Like meeting the proverbial bull in a porcelain store up close and personal. He was so assured that he had the right solutions, had the right ideas to everything that he was unable to let things stand. Now in a city already under fire, he would add more instability, more factors to keep track of, more unpredictable situations. She had done her best to mitigate the effects but there was only so much she could reasonably accomplish. She would have to focus on the things that were most important right now.
The High Palatine was correct that a night assault seemed like a preferable option at this moment. Their troops were well rested and the effectiveness of firearms would be heavily diminished in the dark at night. But so was their visibility, meaning that if a night assault were to occur, a reasonable view of the camp would have to be taken. While she had memorized the terrain much earlier, the composition of the camp was completely unknown to her and if she did not attend to it her soldiers would be blind to any tricks the Republic would throw their way.
Of course the fire still raged and the persistent smoke clogging the air continued to cloud their vision. However, if the Fogmakers could produce fog, they likely knew how to get rid of it as well, and so she tasked them with reducing the smoke that blotted and choked the once lovely night sky. Meanwhile, when the zealots had made sure the fires had died down to a reasonable level, she would move forward onto the walls, bringing her expert eye to scout out the situation. She didn't much worry about errant shots; the Republic's guns weren't so accurate that they could hit one woman among st a small group during the day, let alone at night. She began to make her way south towards one of the Hordes in order to get a better picture of the fire and where the best place to start would be.
(R3 to begin removing the fog and smoke from the air Hordes continue to fight the fires Maurielle to approach the walls where it is safest so she can get a more accurate view of the Republic's camp)
The Dominion Maurielle followed in the wake of the zealots - watching their desperate battle with fire. For each fire they put out, it seemed they simply pushed the fire in front of them, letting it ignite farther on instead. South of the river, the suburbs were a raging inferno.
Maurielle made her way to the city walls, climbed a high tower as far south as she dared. As far as she could tell from the glittering sea of campfires, the Republican position looked much the same it had earlier in the day.
One or two regiments had scaled the city walls of Falor, but had not moved beyond that limited segment, merely fortifying it. The Vigil Unblinking was a mass of movement, and the Inquisition’s torch-lit banners hung limpid, haunting, above its ancient bastions. From the walls of Falor south to the boundary of the river Florid, the main camp of the enemy extended, sprawling, no order which she could discern. Almost due west of Maurielle’s position, near the river, the enemy’s artillery batteries had been set up earlier in the day. For now, they were quiet and unseen. Finally, due west and across the bend of the river, a smaller camp was set up - perhaps a third or a quarter the size of the main encampment on the northwest shore.
That was about all she would be able to discern in the night. A messenger called for her attention, and she left the wall, the fires, and the Republican army to the night.
A journey that should have been done in less than a bell took two. Manlia’s party travelled slowly the length of the defensive line of soldiers, passing checkpoint after checkpoint, interrogation after another. When the Palatine finally grew weary of the delays and bulled his way through to the gates of the Palace, he found himself once more delayed while guardsmen deliberated.
It was not until Princess Maurielle arrived at the head of a column of Jahimi soldiers that the gates were flung open.
“The Curia is expecting you,” Wintersky greeted them.
Wintersky escorted the High Palatine, the Jahimi Princess, and their retinues, into the tended gardens and graceful architecture of the Palace of Light. They wound their way up the hill to the Palace proper, the Cariapolis, over well-worn marble steps to the chamber of the Curia itself. Above, the shimmer of the Pillar - the string of light which streaked arrow-straight from the bodily form of Radiance up into the midnight vault - flickered faintly.
They entered and found Dawn Lantern presiding over a weary-eyed and much-diminished Curia. Tilan Jahimis sat to his right. Radiance, as ever, was a barely-detectable form, a penumbra trapped inside his own light, unmoving atop his high throne. A sorcerous cage to the side of the room showed Precious Glimmer’s slim antelope body, imprisoned and gagged. The Curia is less than quarter full, and no one speaks as Wintersky leads the way down the centre aisle.
Dawn Lantern greets the returning commanders politely but perfunctorily. He waves to Tilan Jahimis, who holds up a scroll - a declaration of the Curia. Maurielle Jahimis is declared formal commander-in-chief of the forces of Varantium and leader of the defence of Falor. Acknowledging, for a moment, that the High Palatine had previously acted as such in an unofficial capacity, Tilan explained that in light of the High Palatine's long absence from the city and then rumours of injury to his person, coupled with the Palatine's anyways mainly ceremonial role and the general confusion which recently had shook the Dominion leadership, Dawn Lantern had wisely seen the need to clarify the chain of command in the city. On behalf of the Curia, Tilan expressed his certitude that the Princess would be most capable in carrying out the duties thus assigned to her, as she had anyways performed them throughout the day with great success. Far be it from the Curia or Dawn Lantern to impose on the commander-in-chief’s command, but - among other things - they suggested the zealot hordes be put to use in a night raid against the enemy camp...
Dawn Lantern gestured impatiently at Tilan, who picked up a second declaration. In light of the treason of Black Sun and her destabilizing influence on the defence of the city, it was necessary to immediately take steps. Black Sun was deprived of her status as Seraph and co-commander of the Dominion. All her followers were to swear fealty to Dawn Lantern and Radiance instead. Certain personages, deemed likely conspirators, were to be detained until the present situation of crisis was dealt with. It included, among others, Alexis Kata, Artom Suren - husband of Seda Suren - as well as a long list of members of the Last Argument and others, such as most of the zealot leadership.
The High Palatine has heard enough.
Turning to the Princess, he declares that this was clear evidence of the folly of Dawn Lantern, that these proclamations were a clear act of treason against Radiance and the Curia. If she sides with Dawn Lantern on this, it would mean civil war - as Black Sun intended.
Addressing those in attendance, he continues: though Dawn Lantern is a powerful symbol of Varantium tradition, and sits rightfully beside Radiance in the Palace of Light, he has overstepped his authority - and taken the bait in Black Sun's trap. As they all know, Black Sun is a genius schemer - and she knew Dawn Lantern would react this way. Black Sun intends for the city to fall, and has used Dawn Lantern to ensure it shall come to pass in exactly this fashion.
Dawn Lantern began to speak-
Our only hope is to elevate Lightdancer to take Black Sun's place! the Palatine cried. To draw power from Black Sun and raise him in her stead to take his rightful place as Seraph. Did he not lead us to victory in the field?
Maurielle cut him off with a hand gesture.
“You say this is treason against the Curia and against Radiance. Yet they are both present and neither seem to have offered a word against this.”
The Palatine stopped and stared at her.
“If Black Sun wishes for war, she is a greater fool than previously thought. Her subterfuge, pitted against a core of stability and solidity cannot hope to succeed. Her mansion lies in flames, her best servant is in bondage in this very room. She may have snakes in the grass she can call on, but when exposed to the true light of the Dominion, she will falter, as she must.”
“You utter fool! She wants us to fight each other. You get the slightest hint of approval from Dawn Lantern and a chance to shine in the sun and you jump at it - throwing everything else into the fire.”
“I am only doing what I must to insure order remains.”
“Order?” the Palatine raved. “If I order it the Sistorian cavalry will pull away from the city, and with his mad purge Dawn Lantern will chase the rest of them away… You utter fool! If you close your eyes now you damn us all - that is why there is a High Palatine, a human, to lead. Dawn Lantern is literally blind beyond the concept he embodies. If you stop me now you prove the Republic right! Damn you all, Dawn Lantern is ordering a purge of the Curia - are you all blind?”
“If you pull cavalry away from a needed battle, you will be the one committing high treason against the Dominion, not I. But, in your misguided ramblings, you have been correct at least once, like a stopped clock. Devoting time and energy towards rooting out Black Sun's snakes would be inadvisable. Better, I suggest, to locate her supporters and send them into dangerous battles, such as this proposed night raid, so that they may still serve the Dominion, even in their deaths.”
But the Palatine marches up the dais to the throne of Radiance, stands by his own traditional seat. Opening himself up to the spirit realm - deaf to the Princess behind him - he seeks to commune with Radiance, to find that sliver of connection which mere days ago had brought His voice thundering to earth, speaking the name “Suren”.
Silence fills the void to the brim.
The Palatine continues, using his personal connection to Radiance to prick him - to cause him pain. Seeking out the moment where the lesser Seraphs - the Thunder Inevitable - where they fell, for a ripple of awareness. Tracing the silver tethers that anchors the three Seraphs to him, plucking them - straining them. Lightdancer’s brush with death.
Too faint to believe. A memory of a... movement.
Dawn Lantern frowns, cries out to his guards - enough! The Palatine has gone mad. He would oppose the will of the Curia - the Law of Varantium. For his own good… imprison him.
Confused, the guards looked between the Palatine, Princess, and Seraph.
The Palatine spoke, a rushed breath: “Radiance has stirred - and he can be awakened!”
But the Princess gave the guards her nod, acquiescing to Dawn Lantern. And the guards drew close…
“House Suren!” Manlia Suren Issander cried. “Suns! Free Precious Glimmer! Stop the traitor Seraph! Ten thousand years!”
Diving back into the Spirit Realm, into Radiance's power and light, the Palatine reaches out - attempts to sever Dawn Lantern's connection to his liege lord.
Dawn Lantern responds with a shriek: Stop him - stop him now! The Palatine has gone mad, no longer spokesman of Radiance but a self-styled prophet, out to wreak destruction!
Maurielle urges the still-hesitant guards ringing the Palatine on: “Imprison him until he can be calmed!”
They close in - the Palatine cries out - and suddenly, the ring of guards explode in battle against one another. Swords ring and blood is spilt in the Curia.
“Ten thousand years!” the Palatine shouts, and with a surge of magic, breaks Precious Glimmer free from her prison.
The antelope, diamond horns dancing with electric energies, slaps into Tilan Jahimis, and the two disappear in single combat.
“Kill Dawn Lantern!” the Palatine shouts. “The fall of the Seraph will awaken Radiance!”
As the guards who had been present battle one another, the Curia - most of them neither magi nor soldiers - flee the building, blocking the entrance of Jahimi troops pushing to get in. Dawn Lantern and the High Palatine struggle with one another, locked in unmoving sorceries.
Maurielle pulls her sword out, heads to the entrance and shunts aside panicked Curia members. She shouts to her troops entering: “The High Palatine's mind has broken, he seeks to destroy the Dominion. Seize him if you can, kill if you must!”
The Palatine hears. “You traitorous bitch! You've damned us all for personal gain! House Sistorian will never stand with you! Summit - if you can hear me, assist me!”
For agonizing moments, the Palatine’s sorcerous mind scrabbles against the walls of Dawn Lantern - seeking purchase, a way in, a connection with Radiance or Black Sun or anyone else with which to break through his defences. For a moment, half-studied Inquisitor cants rest on his tongue - secrets stolen from that most-hated enemy...
But the Seraph is too strong. Slowly, he begins to envelop the Palatine - to push him back.
Maurielle and her troops draw near. Most of the guardsmen who had sided with the Palatine are dead or dying - only two or three clusters remain, fighting to the death.
“Make sure no harm comes to the Seraph!” Maurielle orders, urging her soldiers on. “Recapture the High Palatine if possible, but do what must be done...”
Desperate, the Palatine summons a mental shield - a reflective surface against which Dawn Lantern’s assault is reflected… and redirected ino Radiance himself.
Wide-eyed, Dawn Lantern freezes.
And Radiance stirs.
Suddenly, the Spark of Radiance in Manlia’s chest is no longer a spark, but a raging bonfire. “TEN THOUSAND YEARS!” he howls in triumph, and now Dawn Lantern stumbles back in shock, a child before a grown soldier, all but powerless. “AWAKEN RADIANCE! LET LIGHTDANCER REIGN!” Turning to the Princess, he adds: “LET THIS BE, AND I SHALL STEP DOWN AS HIGH PALATINE!”
His magnified voice shatters glass. A god speaks through him.
In comparison, Precious Glimmer’s voice is but a whisper - but it pierces through the din. “Don’t let him do it! This must not be - He must not awaken, no matter what!”
And her sorcery crashes into the Palatine, but not even with the sudden alliance of enemies is the High Palatine stopped. He bats aside Jahimi soldiers with barely an effort, and drives both Dawn Lantern and Precious Glimmer to the ground with his psychic force.
“SO THIS IS WHAT THEY DO - THEY RULE WHILE HE SLEEPS! TEN THOUSAND YEARS WILL BE UPON US SOON!”
The Jahimi troops are all but expended, strewn about the Curia like chaff blown by the wind. Dawn Lantern crawls over the floor, and Precious Glimmer’s diamond horns have turned a sooty black.
“Do something!” Dawn Lantern cries to Maurielle at last. “Why aren’t you… doing…”
At last, the Princess rushes forward - blade extended, whistling through the wind.
“YOU FUCKING WHORE,” the Palatine roars, swinging his own sword with supernatural speed.
Maurielle's blade is shunted aside, and with a victorious roar, the High Palatine strikes true, straight at the heart.
Maurielle stumbles, Manlia’s blade stuck through her chest.
The Palatine whirls back on Dawn Lantern and Precious Glimmer, his power the weight of mountains-
“THE GOD-EMPEROR AWAKENS! YOU WILL ALL PAY-”
And Maurielle brings her blade back around for a second swing while the Palatine is distracted.
“THE HERETICS WILL BE... DESTroyeedd...”
He falls to his knees, looking down. There Maurielle’s blade pierces his body, metal glimmer sticking wetly through his chest. Impossible…
“I… killed…” he mutters, then topples over.
Beside him, Maurielle falls to the ground, comatose.
Struggling, feeble already, darkness closing in, the Palatine reaches out, tugging, clawing, heedless for his own or any other life - seeking only to destroy, to tear the link connecting the treacherous Seraphs to their father apart…
Dawn Lantern rises, an indignant howl of disbelief coursing from his mouth -
“Oh no, Princess Maurielle, I see you now - you think to play me for a fool? I see through your disguise, chimera!“
Precious Glimmer’s voice chimes: “Flee now, before it is too late! Bring word to Mother-”
The antelope’s desperate attack against the Seraph was hopeless - with a wave of his hand, Dawn Lantern sends the lesser daimon flying through the air, and turns back to Maurielle-
With a burst of air, Maurielle vanishes.
Coughing blood, at the edge of consciousness, the Palatine speaks.
“... tried to warn you all..."
And Dawn Lantern screams, screams an unending shriek, the last one standing in the Curia filling the emptiness and wreckage with an unending howl like a man insane-
His spark, his connection to Radiance, extinguished.
Soldiers stream into the building from beyond, a cautious stir at the edge of the room - terrified, watching and waiting as the Seraph’s unending cry finally relents…
Then the great painted glass panes explode, the white winged form of Summit sails into the room, grabbing swift hold of the unconscious Palatine and - without another look back - flies back into the darkness.
Leaving the moaning Dawn Lantern and hundreds of confused Jahimi soldiers watching with awe the Pillar of Radiance bursting with light.