(Note: All of the Breath Between Ages stories take place on one day or another within Calibration between R.Y. 768 and 769. They serve as the prequel to the Age of Bone and Blood.)
â€œBy all the demons of Malfeas.â€ Yurgen Kaneko, the Bull of the North, handed Sameaâ€™s telescope back to her, and frowned. â€œWhere did she get so many ghosts and zombies?â€
â€œWe donâ€™t know.â€ The Zenith Caste sorceress was impassive, despite the looming disaster. The bulk of Yurgenâ€™s army was present, having lured the Deathlord known as the Bishop of the Chalcedony Thurible into a direct confrontation. The plan had been for one of Yurgenâ€™s few Dragon-Blooded lieutenants, Jasari, to be teleported to the Bishop, where he would sacrifice himself to end the Deathlordâ€™s reign. After that, the battle would be primarily mop-up of the Bishopâ€™s human devotees.
But the Bishop had not come alone. The far pass was now blocked by an army of ten thousand undead, led by the Lover Clad In The Raiment Of Tears. Yurgen drummed his fingers on the haft of his bow as he thought furiously. â€œHow pure does the forgiveness have to be.â€
â€œEntirely.â€ Samea shook her head. â€œWe will never find someone in time.â€ She turned to Jasari. â€œI will teleport you to the Loverâ€™s camp. If you destroy her, it will allow us to make a fighting retreat against the Bishop, and save the army.â€
â€œNo.â€ The other two Exalts turned to look at the Bull, who was still watching the Loverâ€™s horde approaching. â€œJasari goes to the Bishop, as planned.â€
Sameaâ€™s voice was tentative. â€œThe Lover is the greater threat. She is the superior sorcerer and the superior tactician, and more of her army is directly controlled by her.â€
â€œI know.â€ Yurgen smiled heavily. â€œWhich is why I will destroy her myself.â€
There was a long pause, as Samea and Jasari looked at each other, and then back to their leader. Finally, Samea spoke. â€œThe army needs you, Yurgen. You cannot survive thisâ€¦â€
â€œThatâ€™s the whole point, isnâ€™t it?â€ Yurgen smiled again. â€œIâ€™ve lived more than long enough, Samea. This is what I was born for. You will lead the tribes brilliantly â€“ in my name, if you have to, but I think our Circle can hold them together without that sort of thing.â€
Samea swallowed heavily, and nodded. â€œSongs will be sung of your exploits.â€
â€œTheyâ€™d better. I expect my next incarnation to be around to hear them.â€ Yurgen laughed once, and then sighed. â€œBe well. And tell the others Iâ€™m not sorry.â€
With a short laugh, Samea nodded. â€œLetâ€™s begin, then.â€ She began to shape the spells she needed. Essence flared around her, gathering around Jasari and Yurgen. â€œTo the Deathlords, go. Win this day in the name of the Icewalkers. Walk with peace in your hearts.â€ And then they were gone.
A few moments later, twin pillars of light erupted from the two sides of the battlefield, and as the undead began to collapse to dust, she knew that they had won. With a heavy heart, she prepared to lead her people.
Chorus At Midnight was feeling fairly proud of himself as he sat on his Masterâ€™s throne. His disguise as Eye And Seven Despairs, which he shared with his companion Scar of Uproar, was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that they had run this empire successfully for over a year, with their love Star of Dirt and Doubt, after having betrayed and destroyed the Eye.
Now, a new supplicant had arrived, promising a message of great import that could spell defeat for the Deathlords. Chorus was intrigued enough to listen, and sent Star to listen in secretly from the next room. He looked down at the man before him. â€œWell, what is your message, worm?â€
The man, a fairly nondescript mortal, stood proud and tall. â€œMaster Deathlord, my message to you is critical.â€
â€œYes?â€ Chorus waved a hand for the man to proceed.
â€œI forgive you.â€
There was a short pause, as Chorus blinked. It took all of his effort to keep his confusion from showing. Was this some secret spy he was unaware of? No, the message was being delivered publically. After a moment, he spoke carefully. â€œThank you?â€
The man smiled gently. â€œI see. You donâ€™t believe me. But you will. All the evil that you have done, I understand. Let me show you.â€ With a single motion, he drew a knife. Chorusâ€™s eyebrows rose, but before he could decide whether to bother moving, the man cut his own throat and collapsed to the ground.
There was another pause, and Chorus frowned. â€œWell. That was certainlyâ€¦ persuasive.â€ He glanced around. â€œIs it brighter in here?â€
The gathered servants asserted that it was not. Chorus shrugged.
â€œVery well. Take the corpse away.â€ He paused. â€œCall a necromancer to interrogate his ghost. Perhaps it will explain who sent him.â€ That seemed appropriately vague.
When he was later informed that the man appeared to have no ghost, he became confused.
When he went to discuss the matter with Star of Dirt and Doubt and could not find her anywhere, the confusion deepened to worry.
When the stories finally came of the fall of the Deathlords, he understood. And his worry turned to terror, for his Master had been alive all that year, and had been running the empire with his advice. And now, Creation would wonder how he had survived, when in fact he had notâ€¦
The First And Forsaken Lion sat heavily on his throne, staring into nowhere. Fragments of his supposed bodyguards littered the room around him, testament to his rage.
â€œDid the Princess finally escape you?â€ The voice came from the shadows, and the Lion roared in anger. Varanâ€™s Ruin slid from its scabbard as he threw it will all his great force towards the sound.
The shadows twisted and grabbed, and a slender hand caught the sword and let it fall. â€œMy apologies, Lion.â€ The Unrepentant Sage of Vengeful Misery stepped from the shadows, his cloak billowing around him as it faded into nothing in the ground. â€œIt was ill-spoken of me. I had not thought her that important to you.â€
â€œI am always wroth when I lose a powerful weapon.â€ The Lionâ€™s words masked his pain, and he rounded on the Sage. â€œWhy are you here, Sage? This day has heralded the defeat of the Neverborn.â€
â€œNot yet.â€ The Sage shrugged. â€œYou and I yet live, as does the Dowager. I came because we cannot afford any more feuds between us. I put my resources at your disposal â€“ together, I think we can yet lay waste to the South.â€
â€œHm.â€ The Lion, calming, thought about this. â€œThe mission must come first, it is true. My forces are marching on Gem and the Lap even now. Once they capture those cities, they will turn towards Paragon.â€
â€œExcellent. I will send my agents to Chiaroscuro, An-Teng, and Harbourhead, to disrupt any aid that might be sent.â€ The Sage smiled grimly. â€œWe have lost much today, Lion. But the war yet rages.â€
â€œIndeed.â€ The Lion nodded. â€œWe should send word to the Dowager and the Eye. Perhaps they can be induced to join us.â€
â€œThe Dowager will not. She sits in her darkness and weaves her own webs.â€ The Sage frowned slightly. â€œAnd the Eye is dead.â€
â€œWhat?â€ The Lion, already thinking of military maneuvers, stopped and turned. â€œI heard that he yet lived.â€
â€œNo, it is only his servants that are mimicking him. They might be pressured to serve us, butâ€¦â€ The Sage trailed off eloquently, and the Lion considered this behind his dark armor.
â€œBut there are four Deathlords still alive. The Stars of the Underworld do not lie. And I had heard of the deaths of all the others.â€
â€œIndeed. One of our brethren has disguised his or her death from even us, hiding behind the Eye.â€ The Sage tapped a finger against his chin. â€œAnd even I do not know which it might be.â€
â€œTroubling.â€ The Lion stepped over to his throne. â€œWhy would one of us feel the need to play so deep a game?â€
â€œI do not know.â€ The Sage shrugged lightly. â€œBut I suspect, in the fullness of time, we will learn.â€