Realm Year 303
Fire lanced down from the sky, and the palace burned.
Standing on a hilltop, far enough away to be safe, a man, a woman, and a seven-year-old boy watched the palace burn, feeling the heat of a fire that melted stone, glass, and flesh as warmth on their cheeks. The boyâ€™s lip quivered. Glancing down, the man hesitantly reached out and took his hand. â€œItâ€™s alright to cry.â€
â€œMother said that crying never did anyone any good.â€ The boy swallowed heavily. â€œSheâ€¦ she was inside.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€ The man watched as another pillar of fire lanced down, and then the sky went dark again. â€œThere was nothing I could do for them.â€
The woman spoke softly. â€œTheir plan was madness. They had to know that the Empressâ€¦â€
The man cut her off with a gesture, glancing to the boy. He was still staring at the fire, as the few remnants that had not burned collapsed into the ruins, as though any moment someone might step out. The man shook his head slowly. â€œPerhaps. It doesnâ€™t matter. According to these papers, heâ€™s not from this household. The Empress wonâ€™t care about a bastard mortal child presented to another Iselsi branch.â€
The woman grimaced. â€œIâ€™m not so sure. This was a display. There will be more. And what if he Exalts?â€
â€œThen keep the boy safe. Let that, at least, be something that I could do.â€ The man kneeled down before the boy. â€œIâ€™m sorry, Thelos. I have to leave. But Amara will take care of you.â€
Wiping surreptitiously at his eyes, Thelos nodded. â€œWhen will I see you again, Sifu?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ The man didnâ€™t have the heart to say â€˜neverâ€™. â€œWhen it is safe. Remember, you must pretend that you never knew this house. Your cousins will keep you safe.â€
â€œYes, sifu.â€ The boy bowed shakily, and the man smiled. Ruffling the childâ€™s hair, he stood.
â€œUntil we meet again.â€ He turned, and stepped down the path. For a few moments, the boy watched him with his eyes, until Amara caught his hand.
â€œItâ€™s not safe here, Thelos. We have to leave as well.â€
â€œYes, mistress.â€ Nodding his head, Thelos turned and walked away from his life.
Realm Year 330
Harakken Cyrus sighed heavily, not looking up from his work. His current placement, as a scribe and martial arts instructor at the Palace Sublime, left little enough time for his work with the Bureau of Destiny, let alone his true designs, and the constant interruptions from eager novices didnâ€™t make things easier. â€œWhat do you want, initiate?â€
â€œExcuse the interruption, Sifu. I couldnâ€™t help but see your demonstration this morning.â€
Cyrus sighed, looking up. The speaker was young for a Dragon-Blood, his skin flecked with bluish tints that denoted a birth of high breeding and none of the signs of powerful Essence, but he was clearly older than the usual novice. He frowned, an old memory surfacing, then pushed it aside. â€œWhat of it, student?â€
The young man bowed his head, pale hair falling across his face, before meeting Cyrusâ€™s eyes. â€œThe movements that you made were unmistakable, Sifu. It has been years since you showed them to me.â€
Cyrus breathed out slowly. â€œThelos.â€ He felt a smile threaten to crack his composure.
â€œI never forgot you, Sifu.â€ Thelos bowed low. â€œOr what I owed you.â€
â€œI am honoured..â€ Putting aside the parchment he had been working on, Cyrus stood and returned the boyâ€™s bow. He raised his eyes to find Thelos studying him curiously.
â€œYouâ€™ve aged very well, Sifu. You donâ€™t look a day older than when I last saw you.â€ The phrase thirty years ago floated between them, and was not lost on Cyrus. The smile broke free at last.
â€œCome, let us talk of old times.â€ Stepping out from aside the desk, he started to walk, and Thelos fell into step at his side.
Realm Year 769
â€œAre you well, Master Cyrus?â€ The voice was whisper-soft, and Cyrus opened his eyes with a chuckle.
â€œDonâ€™t baby me, Thelos. An old man needs his sleep.â€ When Thelos snorted softly, he laughed. â€œI was simply communing with Sacheverall.â€
â€œIt is done. The unfortunately extensive damage that Kejak inflicted on his souls has been fully repaired, and he can devote his full attention to me. And not a moment too soon.â€ Cyrus made a face. â€œAs much as Iâ€™ve enjoyed your occasional company, I feel that Iâ€™ve been letting the cause down.â€
â€œYou singlehandedly destroyed Heavenâ€™s response to us. I think thatâ€™s worth something.â€ Thelos shrugged, stepping over to sit cross-legged on the ground. Cyrus nodded after a moment.
â€œI suppose. Any word from Draniel?â€
â€œNothing yet. It is, of course, possible that he will not return. If Autochthon dies, and he dies with the Maker, we might never know.â€ Thelosâ€™s voice was even, but he failed to meet Cyrusâ€™s even gaze. The Sidereal was considering how to reply when the air split in front of him, twisting and twitching into a shimmering white sprite. It leaned in, whispering two syllables into Cyrusâ€™s ear, and then vanished.
Thelos sat up straighter. â€œThat was an Infalliable Messenger. Who sent it?â€
â€œA friend.â€ Cyrusâ€™s smile grew. â€œIt seems that my recovery wasnâ€™t a moment too soon. That was confirmation that Sacheverallâ€™s plan is about to come to fruition.â€
â€œOh? What did it say?â€
Cyrus smiled. â€œTwo days.â€ When Thelos simply raised an eyebrow, he chuckled. â€œIn two days, it will be time for our final victory.â€