And here it begins - the sequel to the Chronicles of the Second Age.
Ten Thousand Virtues strolled through the darkened throne room of the Onyx Palace, glancing around with some appreciation. It never ceased to amaze him how greatly it differed from his prior place of business, and he spent a few moments reflecting on his good fortune, looking over the ornate throne that the Bodhisattva Anointed By Dark Waters had once sat in â€“ until two months earlier, when his own Sidereal advisors had turned on him and caused his demise.
Virtues shook his head solemnly. He could have warned the Silver Prince, if he had believed that the Deathlord would listen. Of the four Sidereals who claimed to serve the Neverborn, to understand the need to end the putrid squalling of the world, only Ten Thousand Virtues had proven true. The others had been traitors to the cause, their allegiance still held in truth by the Bureau of Destiny. Virtues had never trusted those supposed ronin, but he had little influence with the other Deathlords. As an assumed minion of the Bishop of the Chalcedony Thurible, anything that he suggested was dismissed by arrogant fools as intended to weaken their own forces.
His face twisted in annoyance, thinking of the infighting that had led to the fall of the Deathlords. In many ways, they were just the same as the Solars whose ghosts had become them. He stepped forwards, running a hand over the obsidian arms of the resplendent throne. It was fashioned in an approximation of the Scarlet Throne, but with only a single dragonâ€™s head â€“ one coiling upwards, and then looking down across the courtroom, its mouth opening to swallow the world. Virtues chuckled, looking over it. The Silver Prince had been arrogant, but he knew style.
And now that style belonged to Virtues. The Sidereal had plenty of experience controlling the dead; the Arcane Fate that shrouded him from the living had no effect on them, and had only aided his efforts in the past. After the Bishopâ€™s unfortunate demise and the destruction of his cults, Virtues had escaped the collapse of his empire, casting his eyes towards the only major Deathlord-controlled nation to survive the fall of its master â€“ Skullstone. Here, he had quickly wrangled the native ghost-magistrates into line. The Abyssals, no longer trustworthy since he could not locate their Monstrances, had been marginalized, and although some enterprising soul had already looted the Princeâ€™s armories, there were plenty of arcane secrets left. Ten Thousand Virtues had barely scratched the surface, and was in a good position to support those Deathlords who yet lived â€“ for as long as they kept to the true goals. With a contented smile, he sat back in the chair and closed his eyes. Time enough for a moment of rest, for the lesser oblivion that gave him hints of the endless sleep to come.
â€œYouâ€™re in my chair.â€ The voice was soft and kind, gently chiding. And it was less than an inch from his ear.
Ten Thousand Virtues vaulted forwards, spinning as he landed to face the throne. The figure standing behind it stepped forwards, silver robes rippling. Even as he gaped, Virtues looked over him closely, and his voice was faint. â€œButâ€¦ you died!â€
â€œFrequently.â€ The Bodhisattva looked across the empty throne room with a slim smile. â€œBut this was among my lessâ€¦ finalâ€¦ approaches. Congratulations on keeping my empire running, by the way. You were quite right about the Abyssals. They can no longer be trusted.â€
Virtuesâ€™ mouth worked for a few moments. â€œMy lord, Iâ€™m not entirely sure I understand. I was given to understand that you were destroyed. Forever.â€
â€œYes, and that impression took a great deal of work.â€ The Silver Prince smiled grimly. â€œDeveloping a spell to occlude the stars of the Underworld. Setting in motion events to drive out the Dual Monarchs, the only beings that could see through the deception. Propping up those idiots playing at being the Eye, simply to keep the numbers correct for my fellow conduits.â€ He smiled, stepping forwards. â€œIt took a great deal of effort, Ten Thousand Virtues. And now I need you.â€
â€œI live for the will of the Neverborn.â€ Virtues bowed low, his gaze fixed on the Deathlord.
â€œOh, I know. You are more loyal than some of my fellow Deathlords were. You did an excellent job as puppetmaster for the Bishop; I hope you will do the same for my nation, as I will be frequently occupied elsewhere.â€
Virtue looked up abruptly. â€œMy lord, I was merely the Bishopâ€™s servant, not â€“â€ The Silver Prince raised a single eyebrow, looking at him, and the words dried up in his mouth. He swallowed, quickly averting his gaze.
â€œAs I was saying. I will need you to accomplish certain tasks.â€ The Silver Prince stepped forwards, handing a rolled-up case to Virtues. â€œI will be giving you command of my truly secret fleets, the weapons that even the woman who thought she had looted all my secrets could not find. It is a store of necromantic marvels and power that rivals what any four other Deathlords gathered, and you had best use it well. I trust that you will be able to manage your instructions.â€
â€œIâ€¦ of course, my Lord. I would be honoured.â€ Virtues unrolled the scroll, looking it over, and he let out a slow breath, still looking carefully downwards. â€œSirâ€¦ this could destroy your power base here, within a year.â€
â€œIf you perform your tasks, Creation will not exist in a year.â€ The Silver Prince smiled warmly. â€œI am trusting you with a critical part of my plan, Ten Thousand Virtues. Can you accomplish it?â€
â€œYes, my Lord.â€ Virtues bowed again, his heart racing with a mixture of fear and pride. â€œYou can rely on me.â€
â€œGood. Because we are in a race against time.â€ The Silver Prince turned, walking back into the shadows. â€œThe forces of Creation are preparing to rally, and my plans must be complete before Gaia plays her final trump card.â€
â€œAnd what is that, if I might ask?â€ Virtueâ€™s voice quavered a moment. When there was no reply, he cautiously looked up.
The Bodhisattva was gone. If it were not for the scroll, it would have been as though he had never stood there. Swallowing again, Virtues looked over the scroll, then turned to leave the room. There was much to do.