125 ~ Empress Zardria

The hallway was dark.

This was a good thing. The tower was closed off, so the hallway to it should be dark and unoccupied…yet it showed signs of recent use. There were fresh footprints in the thick layer of dust on the floor, and she could sense, with that part that was not wholly hers, that a certain young healer had come through here often.

Pleasure at her sound whipping of the young bitch flooded her again, and she allowed herself a large smile. Stretching that other-her’s senses a bit more, she noticed other energies mingling with the healer’s…something not wholly identifiable, though she knew what it was, and — two bellicas? Yarrow was no surprise. But Anala — what a pity. I’d thought she may be a bit more faithful.

In a while it wouldn’t matter. Magea Rosa’s help would be locked in a room, unreachable by anyone but her — Empress of the Reiaume.

She would have done it sooner, for the psychic noise coming from this end of the castle had been unbearable. She lacked the power herself to lock the Magi in her tower. That would change someday, but for the moment she still needed help.

She fingered the ring on her hand.

Who would have thought that the greatest power in the reiaume was contained within the signet ring and sceptre of office? They were meant to be symbols, nothing more. They were both ancient magekal artifacts — pieces of history that had been passed on down through the line of queens since the early Second Age. She thought the coronet was too, but she had so far found no information on it in her studies. Regardless, none of the items ever left her possession.

The information she had found had been relegated to myth or legend, but something — no, someOne — thanks be to Umbra — had told her that it was true, and had given her the confidence to try to use the ring as it was intended.

It had five stones embedded in the copper, and she’d soon discovered that four of them were for the Towers, and the fifth for the Spire. The ring was the key to the whole castle. Heavens forbid it should ever fall into the wrong hands.

She smiled a little at that thought, and more at the memory of her testing the ring out. She’d gone to the West tower first, where she knew Yarrow kept that disgusting little shrine to their long-dead mother. She’d destroyed the shrine soundly and wrapped up the broken sword to be melted down by the metal-workers in the smithy. What a waste of recyclable material to have it sitting around in pointless homage! Then she’d used the ring to lock off the tower. Forever, so far as she was concerned — unless she had a sudden need for more room in the future. She doubted it though.

The sword dropped off at the smithy, she’d hurried to the next tower she wanted to lock. The North.

She stopped as she reached the door and looked for where her hand should go. Around each Tower door was a bit of a mosaic with semi-precious stones, and hidden within that matrix of stones was a place to fit the ring so she could do the locking. She was working off instinct now, a sense heightened by her years-old deal with Umbra, and soon she found the spot. Turning the ring and placing her hand flat against it so the green stone matched its space on the wall, she closed her eyes and concentrated.

Umbra’s sweet, dark, mad power filled her and she felt her other self flare to full strength, stoking her anger, making her lust for blood. Before she could regain control of it it moved through the Tower, using the ring’s power to perform the sealing before rushing back into her body with a speed that knocked her back, off her feet and onto the ground.

A minute or so passed before her eyes opened, and when she sat up there was a slight ringing in her ears. She sat still and listened with all her senses, and it was as if there was a blanket over this part of the castle. Nothing but blissful quiet and no more Magi-chatter.

Getting to her feet gingerly she moved forward and tried the door. Locked.

Thank Umbra, she thought, another smile taking her features as she walked away, heading to her next task as Athering’s new ruler.


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