I'll be writing up my next Vanished story soon, but in the meantime, here's my ongoing, very slowly advancing epic.
Once again, the throne room in the great palace at Onyx, capitol of the Skullstone Archipelago, was silent. Its courtiers and sycophants had been ushered firmly but politely away, on the excuse that the masters of the Court needed some time to commune with their lord. The fiction that the Silver Prince yet lived was one that everyone in the court knew to be false, and about which rumours had spread well away from the Archipelago itself, but it suited their purpose to have it believed to be true.
They might have been surprised to see the two figures sitting alone in the room. One, Ten Thousand Virtues, was as the denizens of Skullstone had come to know him. The other, more familiar, was the Silver Prince, his image faint, but clearly present. The two stood on either side of his great throne, their conversation low, but calm.
â€œAnd that covers our raids. My lord, I do not wish to offend, butâ€¦â€ Virtues paused hopefully. The Bodhisattva generously supplied his question for him.
â€œYou do not understand why I have given the Empress Mnemon so much information to access the Imperial Manse.â€
â€œNot at all, my lord.â€ Virtues bowed his head humbly. â€œI am sure that this is why I am but a servant.â€
The Silver Prince chuckled warmly. â€œIt is simple enough, my devoted servant. There are some secrets that I have kept even from you. One of these secrets is that I have a weapon in the household of the Empress, a man that she trusts above all her hidden servants. In two daysâ€™ time, she will take her precious Sorrow to the very belly of the Imperial Palace, and show him how to bypass the traps and safeguards that her mother arrayed on the Manse.â€
Understanding lit Virtuesâ€™ eyes. â€œThe ones you donâ€™t know. Once the Manse is active, he can summon you to destroy her.â€ Then he frowned. â€œBut, master, what if she does not trust him as you think?â€
â€œThen she will die.â€ An insincere look of sorrow crossed the Silver Princeâ€™s face. â€œSadly, the information that she gained from my notes is incomplete, and the notes of her mother have been subtly altered. Without Sorrowâ€™s assistance, she will die within the Manse, and we will simply have to find another plan.â€ He smirked. â€œBut she will bring him, for she thinks she can outwit whatever he mightâ€¦â€
He broke off, his eyes darting to one side of the room. â€œWe have a visitor. Deal with her.â€
Ten Thousand Virtuesâ€™ response was brutally swift. One hand flicked upwards, and five sparks of darkness leapt from it, lancing out towards the pillars at the far side of the room. They wove around them, slamming one after the other through the wall of the building, then arced back to Virtuesâ€™ hand, bearing nothing but a scrap of white fabric. With a muffled curse, the Sidereal launched into motion, racing in pursuit of the unseen spy. Behind him, the image of the Silver Prince smirked once again, then faded away to nothing.
Several thousand miles away, in the dubious comfort of her hidden retreat, the Empress Mnemon watched the disaster unfolding, her jaw set grimly. When the trail of the messages that Sorrow had been sending ended in the Skullstone Archipelago, she had dispatched the Harvester, along with the second Circle demon Tedjahe, to discover whether the Abyssal was in contact with Ten Thousand Virtues. The truth, it seemed, was somewhat more dire.
And now her pawn had been discovered. It was a problem she was prepared for, to be honest. If Harvester could escape Virtuesâ€™ sight for long enough, Tedjahe would transport her back to the Blessed Isle. But if the Sidereal could keep up, she was doomed. Harvester knew that â€“ Mnemon had spelled it out for her before the mission began. She was ready to shatter the Abyssalâ€™s Monstrance, casting her soul into the Void, rather than let her be captured and interrogated. The Bodhisattva could not be allowed to know that Mnemon had learned his plans.
But not yet. Harvester still had a chance. Even now, she was racing down the twisting streets of Skullstone, every step fading into the stonework. She was fast. She was nearly far enough away. She couldâ€¦
The building in front of her exploded into powder as five points of darkness streaked through it, racing towards Harvesterâ€™s chest. The Abyssal dove backwards, teeth gritted as the necrotic pulses rotted flesh along her upper arm. Ten Thousand Virtues stepped into view, his demeanor pleasant.
â€œThe Kiss of Oblivionâ€™s Hope. A simple enough Charm for one of my standing, little girl.â€ His eyes narrowed. â€œI know you. You are one of the Maskâ€™s servants. Why are you here?â€
By way of answer, Harvester dove to one side, rolling through an open window into the building within. Shaking his head, Virtues pursued her, the door corroding off its hinges to collapse on the ground in a pile of rot and rust. â€œI can sense your flight, girl. You canâ€™t run from me. Give me my knowledge, and let your journey to Oblivion be swift.â€
The magics through which Mnemon watched her servant were good ones. She could see the girlâ€™s sweat beading her brow, hear her muffle her gasps of pain. The Harvester knew that Mnemon was watching, but she didnâ€™t beg for salvation or hope. For a moment, the Empress found her own breath catching. Just a bit further, and she could still escape. There was still hope.
As Virtues stepped into the room, Harvester made another leap for safety. This time, three dark points passed cleanly through her right leg, and with a soft moan of pain she rolled across the window frame and collapsed in the street. She struggled to rise, her leg a withered mass.
Mnemon shook her head, reaching for the Monstrance. It was over â€“ there was no way for Harvester to escape the attentions of the Sidereal. Best to end things quickly.
Her hand hesitated a fraction of an inch from the Monstrance, and she berated herself for the sudden thought that Tedjahe was not widely know. It might be that Ten Thousand Virtues would not recognize him, would not know which demons to call up to learn who had pressed him into servitude. It might be that Harvester could be saved.
But he might know. And if he knew, then it was over. The Bodhisattva would know his trap was sprung, and Mnemon would lose her last advantage. Her power would be out of reach. Creation would be doomed. Grimly, Mnemon knew that the risk couldnâ€™t be taken. The pawn had to be sacrificed.
It was what her mother would have done.
Her jaw set, and she spoke, releasing a spell prepared for such a moment. â€œTedjahe. Bring Harvester here as quickly as you can.â€
The demonâ€™s voice was faint across the gap. â€œI obey.â€
Half a world away, Harvester had managed to push herself to one knee, and was balefully regarding Ten Thousand Virtues, who had adopted an expression of sympathy. â€œDear child, will you not tell me who sent you?â€
â€œNever. I hope you and your Prince both boil in the Yoziâ€™s Hell.â€ Harvester spat at the Siderealâ€™s feet, and he rolled his eyes.
â€œSuch bravado. I assure you that you will change youâ€¦ by the nine dead gods!â€ His expression turned to shock as a sandstorm blew up around them, filling the square with searing, blazing hot shards of glass. As he stepped backwards out of the way, he saw faintly through the mists a shape taking the girl up. Virtues cast out his hand, watching the sparks fly unerringly towards the two, glass turning to nothing in their wake, but was offered only a clear view of their departing backs as the beingâ€™s portal collapsed behind them. His jaw set.
â€œIntriguing.â€ The Silver Princeâ€™s image flickered into existence beside his servant, as the storm of glass fragments settled to nothing. â€œMnemon chose to risk revealing herself.â€
â€œMnemon? She sent the spy?â€
â€œOh, yes.â€ The Silver Prince laughed, a rich sound at odds with the dark surroundings. â€œShe actually believed that we could not identify that demon â€“ or else she thinks that it doesnâ€™t matter what I know. She is even more arrogant than I had imagined.â€ He shook his head, chuckling as he faded away. â€œI look forwards to the endgameâ€¦â€