Michelle (msagara) wrote,

Second Annual International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretch Day

I missed this last year, because I was mostly off-line.

And I thought about posting a short story here, but actually, I liked what papersky did, so I dug out the first chapter of Broken Crown. Sort of. When I started Broken Crown, there were three things, three story strands, I had to reach for: Diora's, Valedan's... and Kiriel's. I wrote three chapters from the viewpoint of a young Kiriel in the Shining City, and then realized that there was no way that the book would reach Diora, and I put those chapters aside, with some vague plan of using them as the start of a later book. Which didn't happen. Or hasn't, yet.

ETA: Having just perused Chapter Two, I realize that these were written before I wrote the prologue(s) for Broken Crown.


She was six years old when she first saw the Taking.

It was no mere death, for this she had seen often in the halls of the Shining Palace; so often that she had no memory of the first time, and no question whatever that it would continue. No, this was special enough that Kiriel would never forget the night when it had first been revealed.

Her nurse, Ashaf, had at last gone to sleep, weary of the day's toil and the antics of her young charge. Ashaf slept often, and almost always during the dark of the night.

Kiriel never understood this, for the night was the most beautiful part of the turning. The stars, cold and pale, glittered down on battlements of perfect stone, jewels too distant to touch but not to be yearned for. The moon spread over the rich and the poor alike, turning even the grandest of towers into a secretive and brooding shadow against the darkened sky.

Tonight, the moon's face was full, rounded with liquid light and the faintest hint of colour. She cast her dark eyes down the side of the mountain's face, lighting the solitary path so that travellers might not fear to stray a deadly step.

Kiriel wanted Ashaf to wake, but Ashaf would have none of it. Although she was polite, her mumbled indistinct words made her meaning clear: It was night and she was due her rest. She turned in the sheets, pulling them half over her lined face, her greying hair.

So Kiriel stood in the centre of the round room she shared with her caretaker. The curtains were back, open across the small window that had been carved out of stone: One piece, this tower, sculpted by the glory of the King. Her father.

Moon-touched she stood, the light whitening her face.

If Ashaf wouldn't talk and wouldn't play; if she wouldn't go down to the mountain trail, or walk the battlements with their fierce, lovely wind, she could do one other service. She could be watched.

Of all of the inhabitants of the Shining Palace, Ashaf was the one that Kiriel best liked. Ashaf often smiled, and her smile was different from that of her father's many generals and servants. It was fatter, for one. Softer, as Isladar often said. Her teeth were flat and sort of yellowed, and her lips had all sorts of lines around them. Her hands, although they had rough bumpy patches, were also softer, warmer.

But it was not these things that made her different in Kiriel's eyes. It was her Colour. All around her, all through her, Kiriel could see light, a whiteness that at once burned and pleased, a glow that suffered only a little from the darkness that shrouded all of the other important people here. She was not like Lady Sariyal, for instance; she didn't wear the velvets and silk brocades, the fine tall wigs or the glittering jewellry that the most beautiful of all her father's court did. And it didn't matter a whit. Ashaf was special.

Even Isladar said so.

Isladar. Kiriel tilted her head in the light, twisting the shadows as she did. Isladar was one of the Uncoloured; he had no light or dark to mar him -- she could only see his skin, not what lay beneath it. He said it was because he had no soul.
She had asked him once what a soul was, and he had smiled; he rarely did that. She liked it; she liked his teeth when they showed. They remined her of Falloran, the great dog that had always guarded her tower. But she never threw biscuits to Isladar.

Isladar had not answered the question.

Do I have a Soul?

Oh yes, Kiriel. Can't you see it?

She couldn't. But she hoped that she looked liked Ashaf and not like the other Lords and Ladies.

She sighed, an unconscious imitation of Ashaf, and then went to find her robe. Ashaf insisted she wear it at night, although she didn't neet to -- the cold that Ashaf often complained about never touched her. Not here.

And if Ashaf didn't want to wake, she would find Isladar instead. He never needed to sleep.
The halls were not empty at night; in fact, even in the early hours, they were often busy. Her father's guards lined the walls, Uncoloured, every one. Some stood with weapons -- swords and great axes. Those that stood without were more feared: Fangs and claws could react with a speed that a weapon could not. Their effects, as she knew well, were devastating. She had nothing to fear, but she walked around them, not meeting their eyes.

Isladar had his own chambers. She liked his rooms very well although she didn't understand them: They had no bed, no bedside tables, no chairs. There were no windows at all, not even the smallest of arrow slits. All light here was torch and lamp, and even these had to be brought by the imps.

She went to the Fifth room first, for that was where he could most often be found when he was not at her side. There was charcoal burning in the brazier and the faintest hint of somthing pungent which curled, zephyr-like, around her nose, but the pattern marked in stone upon the ground was dim and flat where gold caught her eye. Isladar worked no Magics this night.

Where was he?

The other four rooms had no answers either, but in the library that he kept she found an open book upon the one desk that Isladar possessed. Even this had no companion chair to it; when he read, he chose to stand. She tried to pull herself up to the desk top, but it was too tall and too smooth to provide purchase.

At last, Kiriel left off her search of his chambers. She went to the guards at his rooms' outer door and asked where he might be found.

"He can be found in the chamber of Lord Sariyal."

Kiriel didn't like that Lord; once, very long ago, he had tried to hurt her. She didn't know why, but it was Isladar who had stopped him.

She hovered at the door a moment before deciding.
The screaming filled the long, empty hall. Torchlight flickered in recesses in the wall, glinting against polished brass holders and handles alike. There were no guards here; the Lords did not like the Uncoloured.

It was odd, this scream; it was like no other that Kiriel had ever heard before. It passed through her ears into her entire body; it was so loud, and so strong, that she tingled as it rose and fell. She was hardly aware that she was walking until she came to the open door.

It was one of several, fine and old, with details of a crest inlaid in silver across a broken continent. She was supposed to remember it, Ashaf had said so, but it meant nothing to her now; nothing at all.

For something strange was happening; something new. The tingling grew stronger, surer; she lost the sound of the scream to the warmth of its sensation. Her feet, bare, felt the change of stone to carpet, but her eyes did not see it.

The antechamber passed behind her, as did the sitting room and the study. Beyond it, one last door remained, and it too was open.

Isladar was in the centre of the bedchamber. He stood over the wide bed; the curtains had been drawn and in the moonlight she could see that Lady Sariyal and her Lord slept.

Or at least the Lady did; her breath came evenly and sweetly; her lips turned up at the corners in some faint dream that wakefulness did not care to disturb. But the Lord...

The Lord's colours had fled his body entirely. It was as if there were two Lord Sariyals. One slept at peace beside his lady; he wore no wig, no jewellry, no clothing, and his chest was very still. The other cringed at Isladar's feet, clutching at air, his black, cold hands weaving frantically around long, still legs.

It was he who was screaming.

Isladar smiled. His teeth were sharp, cold, hard, as much stone as his face had become.


Lady Sariyal stirred as Isladar turned to see his young charge.

Silence, Kiriel. Do not wake the Lady.

She didn't understand why he could speak and she couldn't, but the peculiar tension around her body stopped her words. She almost forgot to breathe, so still did she become.

You have the sight, little one. Look well. this is the darkness that we claim as our right and our dominion. You are privileged this night. Come. Watch the taking.

Lord Sariyal screamed and turned his face to Kiriel, his mouth open, his tongue lolling around silent words. Kiriel shivered and closed her eyes. She looked almost one with Isladar at that moment, although she could not see it.

All through the night she stood in that sweet stillness, her body thrumming like the strings of a harp played by a Master bard. She heard him, heard the change of his pleas, the tenor of his terror. It was strong and sure, it was music, it was fire -- all of these things.

And it was over too soon.

She opened her eyes to see Isladar gesture. Shadow fled his fingertips and his eyes grew the colour of blood catching light. The far window disappeared, becoming molten rock and red, red sky.

Beyond all sound now, Lord Sariyal joined his kin in the Hells of Allasakar's dominion. For an instant, Kiriel could see the Uncoloured revelling in the fruits of their harvest: the dead were dying still, dying eternally. She heard their wailing and their please, and none of these sounds were ugly to her.

"Come, little one," Isladar said, and he gestured.

The Hells were gone. Lord Sariyal was gone with them.

"Did you see?"

She nodded, unable to find the right words.

"Good. You are meant to help Him rule; you must learn all that you need know." He offered her a hand, and she reached up to take it. They left the room in silence, one man and one child, and Isladar showed her the way.
She was seven when she made her first ascent through the streets of the Shining City. It was her birthday, everyone said so, and she had no reason not to believe them, although she couldn't remember being born.


He looked down at the sound of her voice, his black eyes unblinking in the spray of curtained sunset that fanned the floor of her room.

"Little one?"

"Were you there when I was born?"

"Was I where?"

Her frown, mercurial and dark, cast an answering smile upon his face.

"Yes. I was present at your birth."

"Was the King?" Always 'the King', never her father.

Isladar frowned slightly and placed a hand upon her head, stretching the long reach of his arm to do so. "Kiriel, today is important. You will ride the great beasts through the streets. All will see you."

She nodded solemnly, tilting the jeweled tiara that was pinned to her fine hair.

"You must remember that the King is your father. No other child on this world will ever be so honoured as you."

She nodded again and leaned into his hand. She did this often; he was not so soft and warm as Ashaf, but he was her only other friend.

"But was he?"

"Yes. He was also present."

"What did he say?"

Isladar's face grew remote and grey; his eyes grew smaller, darker. "He said that I was to see to your raising and your education. He is a very busy... King. There is much he must see to, to increase his dominion." She did not understand this yet, but in time she would.

"Was Ashaf there?"

"Why don't you ask her?"

"She won't answer."

"Then I should not." But he frowned, this time more deeply. "Now come." He held out a hand. She took it; it was one of the few familiar gestures that she had seen this day.

"Will my hands be like yours?"

"Never." He wrapped his fingers around hers, noting the contrast. She was her father's daughter, but in subtle ways, many still unknown. Her flesh was as soft and vulnerable as any of the merely mortal. "Do not frown so. We will be seen soon."

They left her chambers, hand in hand, and began the descent down the spiral stairs. Kiriel had some sense of the importance of this occasion, for she didn't ask to ride the bannisters, and she took care to comport herself in such a way that her fine, long train did not crumple.

"Why won't Ashaf come?"

"It is not her place."

"But I want her."

"Your father does not."

Kiriel stared at her feet, trying to find them beneath the black hem of her new dress. There, in pointed shoes, she could see her toes wriggling. She liked black, but not so much of it; it was everywhere around her. Only her crown was gold and red, and she couldn't see it. Her hair was drawn tight about her head; Ashaf had pulled and pulled, yanking with comb and brush for what seemed hours.

"Now, you must walk on your own," Isladar said, as he approached the doors at the base of the great tower. He gestured briefly and they flew open at his silent command, letting the night breeze in.

Falloran began to howl immediately with all three of his throats. His mighty jaws opened, snapping at air; he eyes glowed red. Isladar stared at him, and an answering growl started in his throat.

Secretly, Kiriel was pleased. Falloran didn't like anyone but her -- not even Isladar. Especially not Isladar. Still, she had never heard Isladar growl before; it was odd. She stared at the tall thin figure who was draped by a black cloak that rivaled her own dress in length. But it wasn't so plain; gold and silver glinted in a maze of symbols that she didn't know.

Oh no. She knew the look on Falloran's face -- it meant he was about to spit fire. The fire she liked, even though it was almost painfully hot, but she knew it would ruin her dress. Ashaf would be upset then.

"Falloran, we have to go."

The great dog stopped snapping with one of its heads and turned limpid, disappointed eyes at her. She started to reach for her pockets and remembered that the dress didn't have any. Instead she showed him her empty hands. "Sorry."

"Yes, Falloran," Isladar said, in his normal voice. "We go now."

Falloran settled back, but his many eyes never left the demon Lord who strode at his mistress' side.
The great beasts were waiting in the open courtyard. They had already fed; it was clear from the spray of red on the stones. Isladar approached with confidence, but Kiriel hung back. These creatures, watched at times from her tower windows as they wandered below, were far larger than she had imagined.

"Kiriel. Come."

Still she hestitated, staring at their huge, smooth bodies and their large, closed jaws. A tiny trail of red glistened off fangs and dripped down as one beast swivelled an eye to stare at her.


"Ashaf says they're dangerous." Her voice was a whisper.

Isladar heard it clearly; his face was dark. "They are too stupid to be dangerous." He held out a hand; it was a command, not an offer of companionship. "Do not show fear in front of them. Never show fear in front of any of the demon-kin." His teeth glittered in the darkness; it was not in smile. "Not even me."

She went then, lifting her chin and straightening her shoulders just as Ashaf had taught her.

Isladar turned to the first of the two beasts. "Kneel."

Jaws, half again the length of his body, opened wide. Three rows of teeth drew close, but Isladar did not even flinch. "Kneel, I said."

The beast roared with the voice of the mountain winds made low and dangerous.


Jaws snapped at air once, and then a second time. There was no third; the roar dulled into a growl as the beast came to ground. Isladar had not moved.

"Lady Kiriel?"

She came forward, still holding her chin high as the beast settled. Isladar waited, not even offering her a hand as she approached the set of spikes that served as the beast's mane. She touched one, gripped it, and began to climb.


All heads turned at the voice, even the beast's. Kiriel held on as her feet left the ground and her train tangled beneath them.
The mighty doors to the north were open, and between them stood a lone figure. He was all of darkness; not even Lord Sariyal could have claimed so black a colour as his. He was not as tall as Isladar, but height counted for nothing. Not even Kiriel could mistake the power that radiated outward for anything other than it was.

Isladar dropped to one knee, bowing his head.


"Isladar." The King of the Shining City nodded. He wore no crown, no mantle; indeed he wore no clothing that the eyes could see -- but he was neither naked nor vulnerable. What better armour than power? He stepped forward and the doors to his personal wing slammed shut.


She bowed her head much as Isladar had done, but she did not let go of the spikes.

"Are you ready, daughter?"

"Yes. Yes... father."

"Let go."

Her fingers tightened; she could stop them. Had she been just a demon, it would have meant death.

"Trust me, Kiriel. Let go."

The King did not make requests. Kiriel let the spike slip from her grasp. But she did not fall. Instead she floated up, up above the back of the great beast. Her dress, like cloud, like a mirror of her father's shadow, billowed back.

"Take your place, and do not disappoint me. Tonight, you will see my people, and they you."

The back of the great beast was beneath her, and among the spikes, she saw a seat that appeared to be formed of its flesh. Floating, she came to rest upon it.

The King turned to the other beast. "Kneel."

It did so immediately. He mounted, disdaining anything so trivial as a climb. "You will learn this, Kiriel."

She nodded.

"Isladar, await us."


The gates began to swing open. The beasts began to move.
The streets, carved even as the castle, from the face of the mountain itself, were lined with a silent throng of the Uncoloured demon-kin. They stood, not in rows, but rather in a motley crowd that nonetheless did not stray too close to the path of the great beasts of the Hells.

Kiriel noted that those closest to the road's edge were among the most powerful of their type; to her left she saw the demons that Ashaf called 'porcupines'; they were tall, taller even than Isladar, and the manes of the great beasts were nothing compared to the thorny spikes that covered the entirety of their bodies. She saw, further down the road, the great winged ones, with skin that looked soft and supple, and sharp, elongated claws where her fingers were. Their faces were equally long and sharp, and their eyes were at the sides of their heads. There were three in total, each surrounded by their entourage.

Many, many more of the demon kin caught her eye, but she had no time to study them in their haughty pride, for as her father came fully into view, they sank to their knees. She dared a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye, and if she had not been riding, she too would have knelt. In her heart of hearts, he was her king, not her father; she felt a glimmer of the fear and awe he inspired in the watchers.

But she was riding, at his side, a crown upon her head. She straightened as much as the gait of the beast would allow, looking down her small nose.

Buildings, like jutting rock, occasionally sprang up along the winding road. None were so fine as the Shining Palace; none so grand. But she knew, from what Isladar had told her, that the demon Lords dwelt within them, as befit their rank. She also knew that those demon Lords were not happy here; their holdings were very small, and their dominion smaller still, than what they'd carved for themselves under angrier, redder skies. She did not like the demon lords, nor they her.

And coming upon the first of the houses, she saw the first of the Lords -- and the most powerful. He was Assarak of the inner circle, foremost of her father's generals, and therefore least trusted. The hem of his robe whistled in wind that the king commanded, shadowing the road's edge. He was tall, and his face was very human. Around him, a coterie of demons brushed the rock with their heads; he alone did not deign to fall to knees. But he bowed as he caught the king's eye, and he held that bow as the beasts passed. The king's mount snapped at him, growling. Lord Assarak did not appear to notice how close he stood to the jaws of death.

"Assarak," the king said softly, "this is Kiriel, princess of Hell."

Assarak rose and swivelled; his night black eyes fell full upon Kiriel's face. Yes, he looked very human, almost weak. His face was finely chiseled, his nose straight, his eyes large as they rested above the swell of his cheeks. His hair, like his eyes, was black.

"Lady," he said, bowing once again.

Kiriel shivered.

Why do some demons look human, Isladar?

Because, her mentor had answered, they have nothing to fear by looking weak.

But you look human.


But he hadn't been happy with the tenor of her answer; she remembered well the grip of his hands on her shoulders.
Kiriel. Those among us that appear most human to you are the most dangerous of the demon-kin. Do not forget this. Ever.

Seeing Assarak's expression, and the black-fire of his eyes, she knew that she could not.

"Lord Assarak," she replied, as Ashaf had taught her.

Her father's smile was cold, but she could feel it. He began to move forward, and she gripped her beast tightly as it lurched along the road.

Behind them, Lord Assarak's second in command unfurled the first of the banners of the Hells. Lord Assarak stepped into the road in the wake of his king, accompanied by five that he had personally chosen. Not one of the less privileged watchers mistook his expression for respect or friendship.

At the next building, Lord Alcrax joined the procession. He too wore black robes, and he too looked out of night eyes to acknowledge the coming of a Princess of Hell. He joined the procession behind Lord Assarak, but his banner was held by a winged one, and it flew higher than anything save the King. Not even Alcrax was that foolish.

Lord Ishaevriel was third, Lord Etridian was fourth and Lord Nugratz fifth. They were not the only demon Lords that had been summoned across the planes to the Shining City, but they were the king's chosen generals, and their five formed the fist of Allasakar's grip. At his command, they followed his half-blood daughter in her place astride one of the two great beasts, each knowing that they would never be so honoured.

Kiriel relaxed when she could no longer see them, although she knew they walked at her back. She concentrated instead on the thronged street, and noticed with peculiar delight that even the imps were out.

She liked imps best of all demons, although Isladar treated them with unveiled contempt. They were small and spindly, and their pale, near skeletal faces were all eyes. Even their teeth, tiny and sharp, seemed to make them more endearing. She lifted her arm and waved almost cheerfully; they began to jump up and down, chattering in their high-pitched way and clutching their tails.
Isladar said they were like rats, but she'd never seen a rat. Sometimes he called them food, but she knew he didn't have to eat. She kept an imp, but she hid him from Isladar, who made it clear that they were not to be abided.

"Kiriel," her father said. He did not have to say more. Ashamed, she lowered her hand into the folds of her dress, and looked ahead once again.

There, the end of the road descended into a large pit. Jagged rock, like controlled miniature cliffs, rose up from the cut ground in hard, uneven rows. Moon lit the edges and shadowed the basin; there was no torchlight here, nor would any be brought. Yet in the depths below there were people, at last: the Lords and Ladies that formed the human aspect of Allasakar's court. There were perhaps thirty in all, and each was finely dressed, as befitted their station.

Kiriel did not notice their clothing; instead, she gazed on their Colours, seeing the darkness there so strongly the night appeared pale.

Why were they here? Why could they watch, when Ashaf had to stay behind in the palace? Her face furled in frown and darkened into a sullen red.

The King accepted this, if he noticed it at all. The basin walls grew very tall indeed as he made his last descent, followed by Kiriel and his generals. He called his beast to halt without so much as a word, motioning to Kiriel's as well.

When he rose, his feet touched the air as if it were firmament. His darkness flowed back like a cape that no mortal hands could hope to weave. He waited, watching the basin until he saw his people gathered at its edges. Diversity of form blended with shadow until the night appeared to have eyes, all of them turned toward him in homage.

Then he gestured, and Kiriel began to rise also. This time, she did not hold to the beast at all; she knew who watched, if she did not know why, and Isladar's commandments rang in her ears, lending her strength. She looked up as tendrils of her father's power caressed her cheeks and curled around the length of her body. Her own gown seemed to take on the life of the wind, but she knew it for a poor imitation of the King's. She did not have his darkness, and she yearned for it.

The King reached out and she heard his whisper as it roared in her ears. "Take my hand."

She had never touched him before. She could not even see a hand to take. But she dared not hesitate; not here. Her hand stretched up into the darkness, and if it shivered, only the King was close enough to notice.

His touch burned and froze at the same time; there was no warmth in it, no coolness. She bit her lip and made no sound.
"Very good," the darkness said. "You are my daughter."

He turned then, still holding her hand.

"This is Kiriel, my daughter. Her blood is my blood." Small rocks trembled at the force of his voice; imps were caught up in the air. They looked funny, their mouths open and chattering as if leached of sound.

"Show her the respect that is her due."

None of the demon-kin could deny the command of his voice. As one, the ring around the basin bent low, scraping what little ground there was with forehead or knee. They could not rise again without his leave, and he did not grant it quickly. Instead, he began to turn in the air, his daughter at his side, until all could see her face and know it.

Only then did he bid them rise.

"Come, Kiriel. This is the ceremony of the King's Taking. You have your place of honour. Do not leave it." So saying, he descended again, until the ground bore his weight. He did not let go of Kiriel's hand until they stood in the centre of the gathering. There was no altar, no monument, no throne -- all would have been superfluous. Where Allasakar stood, there also stood the heart of Shining City's power. When he stepped away from his daughter, he left his darkness around her shoulders like a mantle.

"Bring him," the King said quietly to one of his demon generals. Etridian bowed low, and then motioned to one of his own followers. That demon disappeared for a moment into the gathered crowd.

When he returned, he carried something across his broad, flat shoulders. It struggled silently against bonds that were not simple rope.

Kiriel stared, transfixed. The captive was a man, but not a Lord; his Colour was a grey so pale it was almost white. Not even Ashaf glowed so brilliant and so warm in her eyes. Without thinking, she started to reach.

"Do not move."

Her hand froze in mid-air.

The demon approached his King and laid the burden he carried before him. Allasakar waved him off, and then gestured. The captive rose, arms at his side, lips in a tight, thin line.

Kiriel gaped.

The man's eyes widened as he caught her diminuitive form, and then narrowed as he squinted to see better. His face was pale and narrow cuts ran along the edges of his jaw and forehead; his hair was matted to his skull, and shone damply. What he wore was torn and dirtied beyond repair. None of this changed what he carried within. Her breath cut back across her teeth.
"What do you see, daughter?"

"Light," she answered softly. "Colour. He is almost white."

"Yes." There was no warmth in Allasakar's voice. "It is so. What do you think of him?"

She shook her head in wonder.

"I abide no light here," her father said. He reached out, and darkness shot forward in the form of an arm. "But I will take what is offered. This, I will claim now, that my dominion may grow."

The man began to scream. Darkness engulfed his light, and although it struggled, it had nowhere to flee to. Surrounded, it grew somehow thinner and more translucent.

Kiriel cried out, but her young voice was lost to two sounds: Fear and triumph. The soul was fading; no Hells opened to welcome it. She shook her head, but she could not move. As daughter to the king, at the king's command, she could only bear witness.

But it was wrong. She felt it, even as her father's lovely darkness grew stronger and deeper. She knew it, as the last of the light faded, and the vessel of a man's body fell lifeless to the rocky basin.

The soul was gone to nothing. Gone to Him.

Everywhere, silence reigned in the wake of the King's Taking. There was a tense anger in the air, mingled with envy, darkness, fear.

Lord Etridian came forward and knelt at his Lord's feet, inches away from the body that was no longer worthy of note.
"My tribute, Lord."

"It has been accepted. You have done well." Darkness billowed out in a cloud that settled like dust over the corpse. When it lifted, something glinted in the moonlight; something round and golden that was held by chain to the man's throat. It was a medallion of some sort; one that bore two open hands facing outward.

"You ranged far," said Allasakar, well pleased.

"I would never offer you less than your just tribute."


Etridian's teeth revealed a dark smile. "Essalieyan."

The chain that held the medallion snapped, and it flew freely to the King's hand. He turned it to his daughter.
"Do you recognize this, Kiriel?"

She shook her head mutely.

"Ah. Well. Your mother wore one like it for a time. Come; I gift it to you in memory of this night."

It came to her hand, and she took it, trembling. Her eyes were still upon the emptied body.
Isladar knelt in the courtyard. In the hours that had passed, he had not moved. Even the advent of the great beasts to their place troubled him little; he had, after all, his king's command to contend with. And he was uncertain of the outcome of Kiriel's ascension. It sent a thrill of something that was almost fear through him -- the edge of the game, the risk of it, made plain.
He raised his head at the coming shadow; this was a right of his rank. There, on the foremost of the beasts, rode the king, and only a little behind came Kiriel. She was small and almost pathetic to the eyes, and her gaze was held by a single cupped hand. Gold glinted there, but from where he did not yet know.

"Isladar," the king said softly, "I did not mean for you to stay so long in this position." Yet his voice also conveyed the pleasure of power and its use.

Isladar felt the fear dim, but made no move to stand. "Lord?"

"Rise. It went... well." The great beast knelt, and the king of the Shining City rose from its back to hover in the air. "I am renewed. I have much now to attend to."

So saying, he gestured, and the black doors to his personal wing swung open. There was no light within; not even demon eyes could penetrate completely so utter a darkness. He brought himself to the threshold of his doors and looked back.
"I leave my daughter in your care. When her servant... wakes, Kiriel is to begin her proper instruction. See to it."


The King was gone; the sound of the doors resounded in the courtyard. Isladar gained his feet only when the last of the noise had died. He looked up to Kiriel, and saw that her attention was still occupied by whatever it was that she held.


She looked up automatically, and then down as she remembered her seat upon the back of the beast.

"What do you hold there?"

"A present from ... my father."

"Come down, then, and show it to me." Isladar gestured widely, and the magic he called caught Kiriel in its invisible arms. She offered no resistance as she came away from the back of the great beast; it was easier than waiting for it to kneel.

But she felt very small indeed as she came to rest at Isladar's side.

"Come," he said, and turned to leave the courtyard.

She followed listlessly. Once they were out of sight of the great beasts, Isladar held out one hand, and she took it, wrapping her small fingers tightly around his three.

He asked her no questions until they reached his rooms. But this walk down the long halls of the palace was different from any before it; all of the demon-kin who stood guard moved to kneel at her passing. Even those guards who waited outside of Isladar's chamber held their bow after she had passed within the safety of his doors.

"You are almost Queen now," Isladar said, before she could ask. "None of the demon-kin will risk your displeasure unless doing otherwise costs them too much. For instance, none of the Lords would grant you this respect were you not at your father's side."

"They don't like me," she said quietly, still looking at her medallion.

"No." He lead her to his the room that he habitually used for the practice of magic; it was the one place in the palace that he could be guarantied absolute privacy. It was dark and quiet. When he reached the pentagram, habit stopped him and he turned to her, placing one hand on either of her shoulders.

"What do you carry, Kiriel?"

She lifted it by its broken chain and held it aloft between them. It hung, flat and gold, in the still air. "He asked me if I recognized it."

"Did he? Ah. I see." Isladar reached out and trailed a finger against the relief of the twin palms. "Do you?"

She shook her head, frustrated. "But he said -- my mother wore it."


"Should I?"

Demon Lords rarely laughed, but Isladar's deep throated rumble deepened the darkness. Even young as Kiriel was, she could not like his laughter. Angry, and not a little frightened, she pulled away, yanking her treasure out of his reach and clutching it to her chest.

The laugh was gone in an instant, but its echoes were caught by the stone and the hairs on the back of Kiriel's neck.

"No, little one. You do not have your mother's talent," he said softly, aware of his mistake. "But come, tell me where this came from."

"A man. A mortal man."

"Ah. The King's sacrifice?"

She shivered again and nodded. Her face was... weak.

Isladar approached her, caught her shoulders again, and knelt so that his words might more easily reach her.
"Kiriel. You show your age."

As expected, she bridled. It was not easy to be the only child in a city full of adults.

"Now. What did you see?"

"The man. The King's Taking." She shook her head. "He was coloured, Isladar. He was... he was almost white. His soul, I mean. It was so bright. Like... like the moon at night."

"Brighter than Ashaf?" There was an edge to the question.

She nodded, wishing he had seen it himself.

"It was Etridian's turn to offer, was it not?"


"Where did the sacrifice come from? Did he say?"


"Essalieyan." His eyes grew remote. "Far, and too bold." But he would not explain further. "What did you feel, Kiriel?"
His words were soft, but the question was so pointed and so urgent that she had no choice but to struggle with an answer.

Ashamed, she bowed her head. "It was wrong." Her eyes seemed to grow heavy, for her lids fell and her lashes brushed her cheek. The darkness was no cover for the tears that trailed downward. She knew Isladar would be angry, but she couldn't stop them.

Yet this once, she was wrong.

"What else, little one?"

"It -- I saw Him. My father. He has so much darkness. It's so strong. I never thought..." She shook her head selfconsciously and tried again. "The King is beautiful."

"Good. Yet?"

"But the man... all the light's gone. And he was beautiful too."

"He was weak compared to your father."

She nodded in agreement, but it was clear to her mentor that the light had burned; the scar was internal, but obvious. Maybe Ashaf had been his mistake.

But even that mistake was not final.

"Kiriel, listen well to me tonight. I know the dangers of the grey that is almost white; I too have seen it. I know that although it is strange and weak, it has its... beauty. But I do not care for the light, and I do not love it.

"Do as I do, Princess of the Shining City. Cleave to the darkness, love it, serve it. For the light is ephemeral and fleeting; you might touch it, but you will never hold it; when the body is gone, so too is the soul. The darkness, the darkness you need never mourn the loss of; it can be Taken and claimed for you, and you will have it always." He met her eyes; neither blinked. "It hurt you when the light left."

"It was wrong."

His eyes narrowed. "Wrong?"

"It didn't... didn't go anywhere. I think He ate it. I was..." she almost said frightened, but remembered that it was Isladar, not Ashaf, that she spoke to, and chose another word. "angry." It was also true.

In surprise, almost in wonder, Isladar touched her cheek. "Kiriel," he said at last, after searching her face for moments, "I believe you have more of the demon-blood in you than even I would have guessed."

He would not say more, but she was comforted anyway. Unlike Ashaf, Isladar almost never touched her like this.

ETA: Wretch. Because I forgot it.
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