YEAR C-4 Month 1/10
Emperor Jugan had stared into the jaws of death before, this Arlas knew. They had both awaited today's meeting with something he would have described as akin to joy and yet he could not shake the panic that coursed through his veins. If the Seer's foretelling was correct, then Arlas would soon be put to work.+
The oppressive walls of the throne room made Arlas quiver. He watched as Emperor Jugan nestled into the grooves of his white gold throne. Jugan was the power of the grand Frost Realm and this was the seat from which he governed his land. His eldest son Ryore was due to turn sixteen. This was a good time to consider marriage for most, but Arlas knew that Jugan had other plans. He wanted Ryore dead.
To see his plans through, Jugan had enlisted the help of a powerful young woman. Reiza. Peradon's latest Seer apprentice was said to be one of the most enchanting young women one could lay eyes on. Enchanting, but deadly.
The emperor grinned when two of his most trusted guards approached the doors to the throne room and allowed the little creature to enter. Arlas gasped at the sight of her. The young girl shuffled toward the throne, her body shaking from head to toe. Her white hair and fair eyes lent her an innocent appearance. In truth, her beauty was nothing to be fooled by, yet it still had Arlas captivated.
'Welcome Reiza,' boomed Jugan, 'Tell me, are you certain about the visions you sent word of? Your scroll was rather specific.'
Jugan's lips drew tight as he studied the child. It was strange how one so young could wield such power. She still looked but a novice. Nowadays, even that marked her as a precious commodity as most Seers were long dead, leaving the few that were born to fend for themselves.
'I am certain, your Grace. Your eldest son is destined to marry the enemy. If that happens, then there is no doubt that he will have secured your throne for future generations and doomed his beloved home realm.'
Fear crept into the emperor's eyes. His Eldest son, Ryore, was his crowning disappointment. Jugan had recanted his flaws to Arlas on numerous occasions, from his lack of reasoning, to a mind that seemed to be plagued by emotion, as no emperor should be.
Jugan eyed the young Seer, with her stark white locks and vexing beauty. The last of her kind. Her eyes roved about the glittering room, seeming to memorize every detail, from its cold blue walls to the harsh glare of the light orb above. All that power, and all you do is stand there, shaking, thought Arlas.
Reiza's visions had brought shocking details to light for both Arlas and Jugan. While they knew she was conveying the truth of what she'd seen, there were certain details that had caused Jugan's mind to rage. His eldest was never to ascend his throne. Ryore made a weak prince and would only make a more pitiful ruler. No. Jugan would plot his own son's demise and Arlas was prepared to help.
Jugan stared Reiza down.
'Have you told anyone else of these visions?' he asked.
Her honesty was to be admired.
Jugan's words were like ice, cutting across the blinding space. When Reiza prepared to take a step, the emperor held up his palm.
'Not you child. Him.'
The emperor pointed directly at Arlas. Before now, Arlas had been content to wait in the shadows. He took a sharp breath and stepped out of his hiding place, cutting a towering figure in his stark black robes. He grinned at the way Reiza stared, in awe. Like a night-time shadow, Arlas glided along the cool stone floor, intent on reaching the waiting emperor. With him came the powerful sensation of Air Magic; a tingling that Jugan said started within the toes and gradually worked up the rest of the body. When the brilliant light hit Arlas' skin, every one of his solemn features was revealed.
Jugan chuckled at Reiza's stifled gasp.
'Do not fear him.' The emperor held his stomach from the raucous laughter. 'He is no more a thing of shadow than you.'
As usual, Jugan was correct. Arlas stood before the child, his pale flesh reflecting the light of the room. What caught the girl's attention, or anyone's for that matter, were his eyes. Reiza gazed into them with a silent fear that Arlas had grown accustomed to. His irises were blood red. Like shimmering rubies, they stared others down, piercing into the deepest depths of their souls.
'Emperor Jugan, a pleasure.'
Arlas' deep voice reverberated off the walls. He performed a low bow before the emperor, his mane of silvery hair trailing down his neck.
'Welcome, Prince Arlas. You may rise.'
Arlas immediately straightened. He looked to Jugan as a servant would its master. He could feel his eyes glowing their fearsome red.
'Still dressed as the stealthiest of shadows, I see.'
Arlas grinned at the emperor's joke, a set of pointed fangs protruding from the base of his gums.
'I suppose you're wondering why I summoned you, Arlas.'
'The thought had crossed my mind, Sire.'
Arlas gave the emperor a good-natured wink.
'Young Reiza here is quite certain of the visions she's been having of late. She believes that the daughter of our greatest enemy is destined to become Ryore's wife. As you can imagine, this presents a problem for me.'
Emperor Jugan worked his fingers into the soft flesh of his chin.
'If that were to happen, then Ryore would gain a firm grasp on my throne, particularly if he is able to produce a strong male heir. As such, I will be needing you to do me a favour.'
He shot Arlas a serious look, which would have stricken terror into any mortal man. But Arlas was no mortal. Despite his youthful appearance, he was an Air Mage; an individual known to live well into their hundreds, as long as they were willing to make the occasional sacrifice.
Arlas gave the emperor a polite nod, wondering what such a favour could entail.
'My price, Sire, for carrying out this favour?'
Jugan's gaze passed from the Mage to the young Seer beside him. Arlas followed the direction of his gaze. If Reiza's predictions were in fact true, then he would need to act swiftly. But, what could Jugan offer him? He was already immortal.
'Power,' came Jugan's answer. 'I can grant you access to magic that you've only heard of in your wildest dreams, provided you do not fail me, of course.'
Arlas considered the offer in silence. He scratched at a mess of stubble on his chin, nodding once to agree to the bargain.
'Good. As you know, I would like my youngest, Prince Fadius, to take my throne once I am gone. In order to make sure he becomes my successor, I need you to dispose of the girl who is destined to become Ryore's wife.'
'Sire, if I may?'
Jugan signalled for Arlas to speak.
'Why not simply do away with Ryore? After all, who would suspect a father of murdering his own son?'
Jugan's lips curved into a sneer.
'Alas Arlas, my eldest has quite the few tricks up his sleeve. He will be hard to take out. No, impossible. It would be better to break his soul and ensure that he cannot gain future claims to the throne.'
Arlas nodded his understanding.
'And then, I can have Ryore for myself?'
Reiza's small voice had surprised him. It chimed out through the room, filled to the brim with desperation. Jugan waved his hand in the girl's direction.
'I suppose, so long as you are still pure when the time comes for him to wed.'
Jugan's guards, having seen the dismissive gesture, began to approach the elaborate throne. They were beefy men, with more muscle than any one man should have.
'Sire?' They gave brief bows, their eyes focused upon the Seer. 'Are we to escort the young Miss out?'
Reiza glanced up, clearly horrified. Tears had begun to form in her eyes as the large brutes pressed in at either side of her, waiting for the emperor's command.
'Please do. I've had enough of her visions for one day.'
Arlas watched as each guard seized one of Reiza's arms, hauling her toward a pair of grand double doors.
Her wilful protests echoed along the halls. Before long, they were no more.
'You know Arlas, I think this might actually work.' Jugan beckoned the prince towards the throne. 'Young Reiza named a Miss Violetta Flame as Ryore's future bride. She is the one I would like taken care of.'
'Is there any particular way you'd like her dealt with?' asked Arlas.
The emperor rose up, out of his icy throne. His eyes locked onto the Mage.
'I would like you to put an end to Miss Flame.'
Arlas frowned. He understood what was expected of him. This was his chance to prove himself to the emperor.
'Arlas, you look troubled. Tell me, does this task displease you?' asked Jugan.
'It seems like a bit of a gamble, Sire.'
'Life is a gamble! All we can do is play the cards that we are dealt and make a little extra of ourselves if given the chance. I'm offering you the cards that lead to power and influence. Play them!'
Arlas contemplated his choice of actions. Immortality was lonely without a partner and he did despise being seen as inferior to his brother, Jork. Perhaps Jugan could offer the power he sought.
'Now, I'll ask again,' called Jugan, 'Does this task displease you?'
Arlas stared into his master's eyes.
'No Sire. The task is mine to carry out.'
Jugan relaxed back into his throne.
He dismissed the boy with a wave of his hand.
'Oh, and Arlas?'
The Air Mage glanced across his shoulder.
'Do you think your brother will suspect?'
'No Sire. He will not suspect a thing.'
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