Indifferent stars stared down upon a world stained by the blood of slaves. Several Zael, their graceful wings marking them clearly, hauled another of their race along a walkway. While they bore the livery of the Palace Guard, with their somewhat ceremonial long blades and magnificent armor, he was clothed in ragged formal pants, pitted and scarred by heavy abuse. The remains of a shirt hung limply off his shoulders, but it had been gnawed like the teeth of an angry beast had savaged it. Several small wounds dotted his face, torso, and arms, but he bore a great bastard sword, even though he was currently reduced to using the mighty weapon in the more ignoble role of crutch. The two guards supported his own staggering steps, but the looks they directed between each other were those of contempt as they hauled him along the walkway to a waiting drake.
They none-to-gently sat him in the saddle and climbed on. As the creature took off, a female shriek of agony erupted from the building they had just left. The wounded royal Zael gave a start and a small gasp of frustration. He tried to fight his way out of the skimmer, but they securely bound him in it, and, weakened by his own sufferings, he could do little but sob in his seat.
The journey was a silent one. Neither of the guards tried to engage in conversation. The royal Zael, a prince, soon ceased his sobs and looked at both the guards with barely contained fury, but his eyes were black with hopeless despair. He bore the expression of the d**ned, for which life becomes an agony, not a pleasure. He wanted to die, to flee back to the torturerÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s room and join his lover in whatever awaited him after life. Whatever it must be for them, he wanted to face it with her wanted to hold her hand and promise heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d be with her forever. Death, whatever waited, had to be better then a life without hope.
When they arrived at the palace, a massive, sprawling affair, and landed at the top tower, he did not resist as the guards pulled him from his seat. He was, in fact, so passive that they forgot to take his weaponry from him, assuming that he was docile and broken. However, they could not meet his eyes, for they could not bare the vicious accusation inherent in their darkening gaze.
This was wrong, they said. This was murder.
The throne room of the Zael Imperium was an imposing place, a place where technology and magic was given full sway to create a vista worthy of a dream. Now, however, it was mostly empty, filled merely by guards and members of the royal family itself. On the massive throne of the Imperium sat Emperor Diral S'Zae, steepling his fingers and waiting for his apostate son.
From the shadows, Laya S'zae, a kind, graceful slip of an Zael girl, watched and waited. Sirel had gotten himself into trouble this time-serious trouble. She dreaded what their vindictive father would dream up as his punishment. She prayed it wouldn't be too bad.
Two elite guardsmen entered, dragging the injured Prince in. Without his shirt, his torso marked by many small wounds inflicted by sadistic hands, his long blonde hair bloody and his eyes filled with pain, he was a piteous sight. Although he was allowed to keep his sword, he could hardly be called threatening. The two guards pulled him to his feet, and he slowly lifted his head to regard the man who had sired him. "Father," he said in a quiet rasp of pain, the tone betraying neither warmth nor affection. His eyes accused the man in front of him.
"Sirel," Diral noted in just as distant and impassive a tone. There was a long pause. Members of the royal family held their breath as they looked at the prodigal Prince. He had betrayed them, lowered himself and their entire race, by daring to love a slave woman, a mere Nehzaria. Hardly higher then the pathetic humans! The royal family had always been a somewhat cold body to begin with, constantly out for the main chance.
Sirel knew he was in an unfriendly environment. What was more, he no longer cared. The pain of his experiences, and the knowledge that the woman he loved was now being tortured to death, seared his thoughts, dwarfing the physical pain of his injuries. His eyes watered, but he would not let them see tears. Not now, or ever.
The older Zael rose from his throne and walked towards Sirel, enveloping him in a mocking hug, then sending the two guards away. "You have dishonored us, my son," Diral sneered, finally ending the silence. "Your slumming with that Nehzaria filth will bring shame upon the royal house. I thought I had taught you your responsibilities better." Sirel was silent. He would not waste words with the scum who he was ashamed to acknowledge as his father.
"You have to understand, son," Diral tried again. Sirel had always been an idealist and the silence, so unlike him, was a bit unnerving. "You can not show affection for lesser races. Doing so makes them elevate themselves, places them on a pedestal they do not deserve. It makes them uppity, makes them difficult to maintain. It's for their own good. They are happy in their current state. It's all they deserve."
"They are people, father. People deserve love." Sirel found it hard to contain himself. "They feel emotions as keenly as any of us. They are just as smart and just as capable. Your claims make no sense."
"I am hardly denying the fact that they are people, Sirel. But being people, and being worthy of respect, is hardly the same thing.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? Diral sighed. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œA man who does not have ambition is no better than a beast of burden. They do not dream, Sirel, or reason. They know only base emotions-fear, pain, lust, and greed. If they were allowed equal standing with us, they would destroy themselves. They know no discipline unless it is forced upon them. ThatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s the existence of peasants. The existing order gives them an illusion of freedom, and that is really all they need, or deserve.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?
Sirel's fists clenched. "Deli and I loved each other, father! She knew-knew- that she could never be accorded anything but scorn or hatred, that we could never marry. She chose to suffer for me! She forced me to take your paltry offer of life! What's your offer of life? A pathetic shadow! I would rather have died back there in the hands of your torturers, the same way she's doing now!"
Diral leered at him. "So maybe she saw-just for a moment- that your life was worth more then hers. She was willing to sacrifice her life for a few moments of lust. I am not impressed by your evidence of 'love'."
"It was more love then I have ever seen you exhibit for my mother," Sirel growled. "More love then I have seen among any of the spoiled wenches you would have me marry. Simpering, spineless girls who've never done a day's work in their life." He gritted his teeth. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou might call them inferior, and in pathetic monetary terms, you might be right! But IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d rather have a poor girl I can treat as an equal that a whining noble strumpet whose only reason for marrying me is some political point!ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?
Diral's expression became almost sympathetic, but to Sirel, it showed its true features: patronizing, arrogant, heartless. His blood simmered in his veins until he wanted nothing more than to smash that face.
"Sirel, you don't understand.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? He shook his head pityingly. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou know enough of history, so you should. Remember the Great War, Sirel? We gave our lives , most of our RACEÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢S lives, to defend their pathetic nation. And what did we get in return? Nothing! WeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re merely taking our fair due.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?
Sirel growled. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œSo youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re telling me that youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve taken over most of the known world, trapped most of the known races of the world in a series of protectorate states, extort more riches from them than I can count, and run practically every aspect of their societies, because we feel sorry for ourselves getting hammered in a war that is so old that most of the races of the world donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t even have accurate records for it.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? With bitter humor, he lifted one blonde eyebrow eloquently. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d hate to imagine a more serious offense.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?
Diral sneered. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œNot a lot of respect for the throne youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re going to inherit, Sirel. The fact is, our laws are kept, order is maintained, and trade is kept going. That is something to be proud of-something that not one of those so-called protectorates could manage on their own.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œLaws are kept? Order is maintained?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? The young Zel snarled suddenly. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œDo you think me stupid, father? IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve seen BaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢krel. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve seen the homes of countless noblemen and noblewoman obviously rutting with half their slave stock. If these are your results, IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m not impressed.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?
Diral's expression was cold. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThey learned a lesson you obviously have not. DonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t get caught. Take the pleasures where you find them, but nothing more than that. ThereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s always a better one somewhere. Slave wenches are a dime a dozen." He shrugged.
There was a sudden silence. Sirel's fists clenched until the blood fled from them, the knuckles turning dead white. The leather of his gloves creaked with stress. You could have heard a pin drop. His teeth ground silently, and his eyes narrowed with hatred. Suddenly, and with a disturbing calm, his hand began to slink towards the handle of his bastard sword.
Diral must have noticed something in the dead quiet, perhaps the sound of the sword being gripped, for he stopped in place. "Is something wrong, Sirel? I said your punishment would be small."
"No, father," he heard the voice of his son, all the emotion of the previous statement eerily gone, but the tone growing sharp. "My punishment will not be small. Neither will yours."
It was impossible to prevent what happened. Before anyone could react, Sirel had drawn the sword, wrenched it across, crossed five feet in the space of a heartbeat, and thrust the mighty blade directly into his father just as the older Zael turned to face him. Blood spurted from the awful stroke, and Diral's mouth opened in a silent O of surprise, turning disbelieving eyes on his traitorous son.
Guards about the room cried out in one great shout, raising their hands and hurtling fireballs and threads of flame at the traitorous scion of SÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢zae. Sirel didn't even look at them, but turned his eyes-eyes now stained an unnatural red with sheer wrath- directly into those of his cruel father and flung out his free hand in the direction of the shots. Absolute darkness surrounded them both in a black cloud, swallowing fireballs, but the murderous princeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s voice was frighteningly audible. Hollow tones had entered into it, making it sound as if it came from a deep cavern.
"I will pay, father, until I have hunted down every foul seed of your loins and slaughtered them. My coinage will be Zael blood, of your sons, your daughters, your wife, my cousins, and your pathetic nobility." A harsh laugh rippled out of the sudden shocked silence. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ll erase everything you ever stood for. Die with that knowledge.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?
An explosion of scarlet arterial blood erupted out of the sphere of swirling darkness, spattering the floor and ceiling. A guard grabbed his weapon tighter and charged into the swirling cloud, instantly disappearing from view. There was a quick clash of blades, and then the guard flew out of the cloud, nearly cut in two and very obviously dead. With a wave of a gloved hand, Sirel dispelled the black sphere, revealing the horrible light in his eyes anew, standing over the crumpled body of Diral SÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢zae. Guards charged him and died with horrifying suddenness in sprays of blood. A prince of SÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢zae, perhaps hoping for a little recognition if he brought Sirel down, ran at his brother with weapons out. The clash was a little longer, more savage, but the princeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s eventual defeat was no less lethal than the guardsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ had been.
Veylana S'zae's eyes widened in terror. She had no weapons and little skill in their use. She understood fully the emotions that had just driven her brother to madness, but one look at him, methodically and brutally slaughtering foe after foe, assured her that there was absolutely no attachment to anything anymore in the Zael. He was fey, and consumed by his own wrath, he would turn it upon any member of his family or any guard in his way. Only blood would sate his hunger for retribution. She looked pleadingly at his flaming eyes, begging him silently to come back to sanity, but there was no recognition in that demonic gaze.
The vengeful Zael brutally hacked his next opponent to pieces while she watched, and his remaining adversaries took a panicked step backwards out of pure instinct. Those eyes! The inferno in them sizzled with a terrible life of its own, hungry and paralyzing. Death, it promised. Death will come to all of you. An insane, furious half-grin twisted Sirel's face and he experimentally swung the sword once more, testing its weight. Leather gloves creaked in the sudden silence, as streaks of darkness trickled from his fingers, seeping into the steel of the elegant weapon, and it began to give off an eerie purple glow.
More screams jolted the terrified girl into action. She took a deep breath, mentally cursed herself for her cowardice and inaction again, and bolted for a window. Every second, she expected Sirel's terrible blade to sink into her back. Glass shattered as she threw herself out the window, plunging down into the darkness of the night before extending her wings and turning the dive into a swoop.
Behind her, more and more blasts of magic and clashes of steel exploded in the tower. Smoke began to rise, and flames to flicker in the windows. She hated herself for a craven heart, but she did not look back.