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Chancellor Calihal

Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

0 · 557 views · located in Embassy

a character in “Ruyn: The Winds of Fate”, as played by Sylwyn

Description

ImageName: Titus Calihal
Age: 275
Race: Dark Elf
Class: Spellsword
Occupation: Chancellor of the Imperial Council
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Weapon: Mace or Sword, Crossbow

Appearance
He has the athletic build, red eyes and white hair of his brethren, and stern features set in a rich azure.

Personality
Some would say he is a bastard through and through, right down to the well-known fact his mother allegedly slept with one of her servants. He hates being social and rarely shows up for council meetings.

Equipment
Elven Mace or shortsword, steel crossbow, amulets, talismans, Mithril armor.

History
Faring from deep beneath the snowy peaks of the Ny'sel Mountains, Calihal, son of the Dark Elf Prince, has served on the Imperial Council for over 40 years since Osiric took the throne. He is the emperor's most trusted adviser.

So begins...

Chancellor Calihal's Story

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Chancellor Calihal reaches the Imperial City when two of the three moons are at their zenith in the sky, one a thin crescent, the other more than half full. He walks down the dark, deserted streets to ascend the grand, arcing stone staircase up to the Council Hall, the hilt of his sheathed longsword bobbing as he climbs.

The night watch, two moderately armed guards, look uneasy, shifting from foot to foot or rubbing the back of a neck. One guard, however, stands to attention, addressing him, "Chancellor," while the second guard unbars the doors.

"Good eve," Calihal responds, giving them both a curt nod. He may as well have told them to sod off.

They swung the massive arched doors out to allow him into the main lobby, and he heard the iron bar scrape against the wood as they lower it into place, shutting him in. Hmm, wonder what has their skivvies in a twist tonight? The lobby, a long corridor illuminated with small chandeliers between high arches on the ceiling and torches to either side, had skylights, that during the day allowed more light to come through, but he needed little more than candlelight to see by as he walked the hall toward the tax office, passing small rooms on the lower level, and wooden doors on both sides to stairwells leading up to the rooms on the second floor. Most of the rooms were empty, lightly furnished to accommodate travelers, mainly figureheads from overseas, but none of them, at present, were supposed to be occupied. He bypassed every one of them, stopping in front of the tax office door to dig for his keys before slipping the long one into the keyhole and giving it a twist. He pushed the door inward and stepped into the dark, vacant room.

At the big desk, he wiggled out another key, unlocked the drawer with the tax records and pulled out Ferdirand's black journal. He flipped through the pages, memorized a few names that seem to be of some importance to him, and replaced the book where he found it. As he heads over to a candle holder near the far bookshelf and glanced around once before pulling it down. A stone wall slid down into the floor with a grating sound. He stepped into a hidden passageway, and turned around, preparing to use the holder on the other side to seal off the tunnel, when he saw a hunched, cloaked figure looming in the darkness before him.

"Going somewhere, Chancellor?" a raspy, crone's voice answers from beneath the hood.

"Who's there?" Calihal demanded to know. "Show yourself!"

The figure stepped forward, and with the wave of a hand, cast a spectral green light which permeated the air around them, revealing under the cloak a wrinkled, sallow face.

The old woman gives the Chancellor a toothy grin. "Poor memory for the man owing a great debt to the woman who put you where you are, Chancellor, a poor memory indeed."

--

The setting changes from Imperial Council Hall to Embassy

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#, as written by Sylwyn
The room at the top of the tower had not been used in a long time. Dust coated wooden crates, their lids pried off and contents long gone, wool blankets and loose, scattered parchment with backdated shipping records that had been misplaced or overlooked. Calihal looked around, taking in his surroundings as he rolled up the rope and hooked it to his belt. Reaching for the thumb latch on the reinforced wooden door, he felt something whoosh past his head on the cool ocean breeze. He stared upward and saw what at first glance appeared to be a very large falcon roosting on top of the of the frame sporting a leather harness with something dangling from its neck. Frowning, he furrowed his eyes brows and waved a hand at it, his fingers barely reaching the frame on which it was perched.

"Shoo! Shoo! Go away, detestable creature," he muttered, and stopped with his ear to the door when he heard the steady tap, tapping of someone climbing the stairs beyond.

Brows still scrunched, he listened until a door opened and shut on the next floor. He waited a beat before he pushed the door open, slowly so it might creak as little as possible, and stepped into the narrow hall to a winding stairwell that led down to the bottom of the tower. With one hand on the door, he held it open until he was sure no one was on the next landing and let go.

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#, as written by Sylwyn
"Vermin!" the dark elf growled lowly, jerking a hand to clutch the new gash on his back as he stumbled.

Those talons had sliced through his cloak and shirt like a knife through butter. Catching his footing at the edge of the first stair, he drew back and pulled his hand away. Blood stained his fingers. For him, it wasn't horribly deep, but the wound still bled freely. Nevertheless, those red eyes aflame as he glared at the bird, he descended a few steps when he heard the footsteps coming from the lower landings.

He withdrew a black dagger from inside his cloak and pointed it at the bird, which, now looking at it, he saw that the avian wasn't quite a falcon. The curve of the beak was sharper, but he wasn't about to pause and wonder what an eagle was doing in a place well-known for falconry. Especially since he despised anything with wings... their revolting feathers, they way they defecated all over everything, scavenged from refuse and stole food. Now, he likely had 'alerting guards to his presence', to add to the list.

"You!" he shook the blade at the disgusting thing. "Just see if I don't cut off your filthy head and feast on your giblets!"

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#, as written by Sylwyn
If the guard didn't know who he was yet, he soon would, and if he did, that secret was about to go to his grave.

"Fall on your blade while you still can!" Seeing the other guards come round the bend and draw their bows, he let a wicked smile creep onto his face. "Is that all you've got?" Bursting into a fit of laughter that resonated thunderously in the tight corridor, he lifted his empty left hand, gesturing in a come-hither motion. "Fine, then, you Imperial DOGS! Bring it!"

For an instant, the dark elf's eyes flashed red. Then, a bluish glow emanated from his open palm, and he curled what seemed to be a ball of light into his fist. With barely more than a flicker of his wrist, he flung two globes of energy that took on slender, comet-like shapes with tiny ice particles forming tails as they sailed through the air, one aimed at the farthest bowman, the second headed straight for the eagle perched on the guard's arm.

The setting changes from Embassy to World of Ruyn

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#, as written by Sylwyn
By no means weaker than his overland brethren, Calihal still lost the dagger in the fall. The blade went end over end, the tip bouncing off the last stair onto the landing next to the men. Karem managed to wrestle the Chancellor to the floor, effectively pinning him. The elf lay motionless, exerting no resistance, rendering himself dead weight as he waited for the impact fatigue to wear off. It was a simple trick, really. He could lay there as long as it took for them to just try and haul up the equivalent of a few extra hundred pounds. He glanced behind Karem's shoulder as the archer approached with the Kereen bracers.

"Ha! You must be as daft as you look to think those would hold me!"

In truth, they could dampen Calihal's magic long enough to restrain him, question him even, but once he focused his energy enough to override the effects of the thinly kerradium-lined iron bracers... Then again it might be enough to get what they wanted out of him. Just maybe. The muscles in his arms tensed, and the look in his red eyes said the dark elf was getting ready to wrest out of his grip and probably throw a good punch or two. His hand clenched as if to display his intent, but then, the senior guardsman growled 'What memo', and the Chancellor realized he could have Karem right where he wanted him. The dark elf laughed in his face.

"What did you think happens to the immigrants who refuse to pay their fines? That the emperor just slaps them in irons and sends them off to jail?" The elf shook his head. "No, no, that wouldn't be fair punishment to those miserable lowlifes. I'm afraid your kind gets deported. That's right, Greenhorn," Calihal sneered using the universal, but highly offensive term for immigrants to the Zamil empire, and lowered his tone. "Deported. And by your record, I'd say you're more than a tad delinquent."

The setting changes from World of Ruyn to Embassy

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Calihal wasn't a trained warrior, but he was mean with a sword. Caught without proper weapons and armor, he'd been taken down easily. Too easily. He didn't even try to resist the senior guardsman as he locked the shackles around his arms. The thought of reinforcements didn't even faze him. His own plans had been foiled, for the moment, but nothing that had already been set into motion had changed. His hands were clean, and he knew it.

"Treason?" Calihal smirked. "I've defended myself from three guards and an embassy bird. You gave orders to open fire on a member of the Imperial Council, the Emperor's personal adviser, no less. Try your luck, dog. When Cylas receives this report, consider yourself lucky if they hang you for what you've done. Immigration taxes are nothing compared to what they do to deportees in the Isles."

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#, as written by Sylwyn
The Chancellor spit out at least a teaspoon of blood and saliva onto the floor at Karem's feet. Even political bastards bled if you knew how to hit them. He licked the inside of his mouth where the blow had landed and met the senior guardsman's eyes with a callous stare. The second blow landed square in his abdomen, and he issued little more than a grunt and a whoosh of air. No, he wasn't about to let the cocky guardsman get a cry of pain out of him. He'd gotten a rise out of Karem, and that was what counted. He chuckled, a grin spreading across his jaw, his teeth stained red from spitting.

"If you care so much, you'd know I had nothing to do with enslaving your precious Roamers, but I am the only one who can you get you on the ship bound for the Isles. Of course, I have no reason to help you, now." He leaned against the wall, a smug look of satisfaction on his face. "As I said, it doesn't matter what your Captain thinks, when the emperor hears of this, you won't need to know the name of that vessel, because your ass will be as good as on it."

...

From high in the rafters in the Great Hall, someone watches, unseen, and virtually undetected, as the Ambassador walks with the Consul, discussing plans for the upcoming conference. The Ambassador glances over his shoulder a few times, but he seems otherwise oblivious to his surroundings, and returns to his conversation, turning up his nose as he saunters into the courtyard.

Soon, the figure in the rafters thinks. Soon.

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Calihal shifted, leaning back and cozied up against the stone wall as if it was a stuffed armchair. He had ceased any resistance from the moment they had him in irons. Granted, he might be able to fight his way through a guard or two, but he knew he'd be overwhelmed without a decent weapon and armor. He would have to bide his time either way. It would take another two days for word to reach the emperor, and nearly the same amount of time to muster enough power to break free of the blasted shackles. It would take everything he had to do so, therefore he'd have to make it good. By the time Sanders left and he could see the fire burning hotter in Karem's eyes, he'd come up with something so wretched it deepened the look of satisfaction on his face.

"I'd sooner gut you like a pig and hang you by your entrails to die like the rest of them." Karem could see dark, formless things flickering behind the Chancellor's eyes, as if the very shadows around them had slithered into his gaze. "But, then, you wouldn't be much use to the Imperial Army, now would you?"

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Calihal just sneered when Karem jerked him to his feet. He gave him a sideways glance, curling the right corner of his lip to bare the white gleam of an eyetooth. The dark elf didn't even seem to flinch- Karem could beat the Chancellor within an inch of his life if that's what it took. The only outward sign was a sudden bark of laughter as a strong hand shoved him from behind.

"If digging in the sand isn't to your liking, I'm sure my father would find use for you in the Tyir Mines. After all, someone has to clean up after the hounds."

Used in the kerradium mines for sniffing deposits and hazardous zones, the Hounds of Tyir were ugly, gangly creatures with long hair, cloven hooves and bat-like faces with glistening fangs. Prolonged exposure to the toxin secreted from glands into their excrement resulted in excruciating death in which the central nervous system shut down along with motor and bodily functions until vital organs began to fail. Lethal doses injected into the bloodstream could kill a grown man in minutes, and for that reason alone, the only place to attain the poison extracted from their glands was the black market in Kyoth.

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Calihal struggled briefly at the shackles, glowering at the Captain with that dark look. He jerked one arm away from Karem, casting another glance to the side before narrowing his eyes at the man.

"Tell your guardsman to release me, immediately, or when my father arrives, I'll have this man slapped in his own irons and shoved off to the Isles. Unless," he curled his upper lip, baring his teeth. "You'd rather deal with Osiric yourself when he hears Embassy guards attacked his adviser, Captain Cylas," he hissed.

The Chancellor hadn't dealt much with the Embassy Captain, but he knew the emperor's younger brother well enough. He almost said how grand it must be living one step behind, always overshadowed by someone else, but he kept the comment to himself. He didn't need to say it; the thought was in the way he tensed his shoulders, letting the corners of mouth turn up ever-so-slightly in the most miniscule of smirks.

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#, as written by Sylwyn
The Chancellor yanked out of Karem's grasp, but made no effort to try and flee. Instead, he held the Captain's stare like a wild beast daring to contest dominance over another.

"Your embassy bird attacked me alerting the guards to my presence, and by the time I reached the landing upstairs," he motioned toward the top floor where he'd entered. "Your senior guardsman issued no more than a verbal threat before signaling his men to arms. The death of your archer is a result of his carelessness, and your hinderance of official business is a capitol offense. My unscheduled arrival is due, in part, to the fact the Drenn assassin sent to prevent any attempt on the Ambassador's life is now pending investigation for arson and voluntary manslaughter by the Imperial Watch." He paused a moment to let his words sink in. "So, before you further accuse me of murder, I'll have you know the emperor asked that I personally see to the capture and apprehension of a man responsible for the death of hundreds who is now the most dangerous and wanted criminal in Zamil."

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Calihal jabbed his finger at the airspace between them. "You have no idea how dangerous those assassins really are, do you? The Drenn will kill any man, child... the woman you love... Anyone who stands in their way."

In a flash, the Chancellor saw his fiance's pale face again, her lips dripping with blood the very night she left him... it was the last night he ever saw her alive.

"Don't you see? I can't live like this anymore!" she screamed.
"There's someone else, isn't there?" Calihal demanded, his voice rising.
"No," she answered, but he could see it in her eyes.
"Who is it? Tell me!" She flinched when he threw a ceramic vase across the room, shattering it against a wall.
That was when she burst into tears. "Someone who can take me away from this... from what I've become!"
"Stop this nonsense, Eilianna! Right now! If you walk out that door, don't you dare come back!"


A week later, he'd found her dead, and it wasn't even a month after that the assassin known as 'Fade' showed up in the Imperial City, wearing the moonstone signet ring he'd given to his beloved. To think that the man had probably lied to her, feigning mercy on her damned soul, killed her in cold blood...

For second, the Captain could see a flicker of pain in the Chancellor's eyes, but the dark elf continued with a seething tone that implied he hadn't come just to take out a marked man. He'd come for vengeance. "Their blades know no prejudice, and all the empire does is look the other way, until someone wakes up and realizes what's going on. Then, they jump all over justice as if it were a new plaything for their snotling children. Who do you expect to take down a rogue assassin from a guild we know almost nothing about? A mercenary? Another Drenn? Nobody captures the Drenn. Not one, not ONE of their own has ever even seen the inside of a jail cell. Half the navy is waiting offshore as we speak, and once they get their bloody hands on the situation, they'll get everyone killed or, if their lucky, just chase him into hiding! So, yes, I advised the emperor to let me undertake such a delicate assignment."

He stepped back, dropping his shoulders, but kept his resentful stare on Cylas. "If you want the death of your precious Ambassador and potentially every life at that conference on your hands- then by all means, lock me in the dungeon."

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Calihal studied the Captain's eyes, briefly noting the striking resemblance to Osiric there, but that's where the similarities ended. Whatever dignity and honor had been the emperor was lost to the darkness eating at his very soul. The pig should be thrown off his throne and fed to the wolves, the dark elf's father had said. Maybe so, but he could tell the man had become a puppet to his own cause. Do whatever it takes, my son, for all of us. If he could just do this small thing, he could earn his father's favor, avenge Eilanna's death and be one step closer to restoring Zamil to its former glory.

The Chancellor nodded. "You have my word."

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Once inside the room with his own set of keys still in hand, he scowled, gripping the iron latch-handle on the other side.

"Good," he said, and abruptly slammed the door in their faces.

No sooner did the lock turn than the call bell on the other side rang, its tongue clanging with a jarring, metallic resonance.

...

The Unwelcome watched until the procession left, its presence almost completely masked by whatever enchantment it bore, and then, like a shadow it melded seamlessly into the hallway, slithering along the baseboards, down the balcony overlooking the Hall. The moment it reached the marble floor, that tinge of energy dissolved into the background, the crowd of guests arriving at the main entrance, a throng of halflings tying up their ponies in the stables, brushing past a farmhand and through the side entrance to the servants' quarters. A stable boy, britches rolled up to his knees, passed one of the guards downstairs with a sly grin, heading for one of the maids' rooms. Knocking twice, he tried the handle and pushed open the door. The seamstress was sitting at a little cherry wood vanity, combing curly russet locks in the mirror when she looked up and saw from the reflection, him standing at the threshold with a smoldering look in his eye.

"Jarrod-" she cried ecstatically, but he put a finger to his lips, silencing her with a soft 'Shh'.

Letting the door shut behind him with no more than a muted creak, the stable boy closed the distance between them in three long strides. He leaned over the back of her chair and slid one arm over hers as she set down her comb and lifted her delicate fingers to undo the stays in her blouse. Pressing his mouth to ivory skin, he pulled her hand away. She closed her eyes, sighing as she leaned into his kiss in expectation of his touch, but it never came. The point of a knife pressed against her milk-white throat, and her eyes flew open as a hand clamped over her mouth before she could scream. She swooned, fainting when she met the eyes of her assailant in the mirror. The reflection staring back from behind her was none other than her own...

The woman eyed her new, trim figure in the mirror, hands smoothing her dress and giving two small mounds a light squeeze. It had been a long time since those defied gravity. Still, she shook her head, a tousle of curls sweeping her face. The poor girl. No, these won't do. With the flit of a wrist, the swell of her bosom just peeked over her bodice.

The young girl, gagged with a pillowcase and all four limbs bound to the bedposts with her sheets, lay, now a mockery of her wanton desire.

Her evil twin leaned down to whisper in her ear. "Too bad," she cooed softly in the seamstress' voice. "No one will be able to hear you scream." Smooth, cream fingers waggled and blew her a kiss as the thief of faces snatched up her basket of sewing notions and sauntered, those slim hips swaying, right out the door.

Giving little more than a suggestive wink or a coy smile to passing guards, the 'seamstress' made her way to the north wing and into the guest quarters, stopping to knock at the last stateroom door on the right.

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#, as written by Sylwyn
The seamstress kissed the air between her and the guard who shyly looked over at her, her cupid's bow deepening with the pucker of her full mouth. She batted long lashes, meeting his gaze, her display of intent in the way she arched the small of her back as she pushed those long locks off her shoulder, running fingers along the nape of her neck. Yes, they knew her by name around the stables and embassy barracks, though it wasn't openly spoken among the staff. She had standards, after all...

And, well, she'd never exactly looked at Sanders like that.

"Who is it?" the Chancellor barked from behind the door. When at first, she did not answer, the deadbolt clicked and slid against metal and hollowed wood, and the Chancellor peered out. "You're late," he berated the seamstress, opening the door just wide enough to allow her in. The fact he was shirtless, making no attempt to conceal that fit upper body, lent little credit to the innocent-looking sewing basket carried by the lustful girl, but she stepped inside all the same, eyes on the dark elf as she reached back with her free hand to shut the door. Click.

"Am I?" she asked, tilting her chin down to look up at him and lowered her voice. "Your little tiff with the Embassy guards almost landed you in the dungeon. Explain that one to Daddy Dearest, unless..." Almond-shaped lookers eyed him up and down. "You've more pressing matters." Her smile darkened, and Calihal instantly recognized the gleam behind those hazel hues.

He averted his gaze. Gods knew how many times the servant girl had tried to seduce him and he'd shrugged her off, though it was no secret he'd taken quite a few women to his bed since the death of his fiance almost thirty years ago, but the thought of the true face behind the borrowed form nearly made him shudder in revulsion.

"Or, maybe you'd prefer something a little more... familiar?"

When he glanced back, he saw Eilianna before him, her slender figure clothed in the green velvet gown she'd worn on their second anniversary.

"Harlot!" he shouted, his red eyes flashing with hatred. "Take it off!"

"I thought you'd never ask," she said, huskily, pulling the cowl neck off one shoulder.

"You witch!" Calihal lunged, slamming her against the stateroom door, hard enough to make the wood resonate with the impact. "Why have you come?" he said through his teeth.

"Oh, Chancellor!" she squealed, girlishly, and laughed in his face before grabbing him by the neck, her nails digging into his flesh as she revealed her wrinkled, sallow, liver-spotted form, the iron bands still locked around her wrists. "Fool," she rasped, so low that only they could hear, "Did you think I would get off spending eternity borrowing fleeting moments of youth from serving girls? We had a deal, Blueblood. Time to uphold your end of the bargain."

--

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#, as written by Sylwyn
"Private business, hmm," Sylwyn wondered aloud. Having picked up on Karem's change in tone, she unwittingly leaned a little closer to him. Her hair and clothes still smelled faintly of pine, of the sweet, almost citrus-y fragrance of damp cedar.

"The clansman who helped our convoy spoke of darkly clad figures and informed me of a potential attempt on the ambassador's life,” she said icily. “I wouldn't know who tipped him off, but I venture those assassins might have had something to do with it. Knowing Calihal, he is probably out to impress the emperor by being the first to dig his claws in." She heard a cat growl behind her and glanced back, spotting those eyes, the color of liquid shellac. "It seems our furred friend shares the same sentiments."

Not one to stand around waiting, she sauntered right up to the double doors and yanked one open, lowering her brows, eyes darkening as she saw Calihal stamp away from his room.

Take your orders, and shove them up your-" he started to shout, and turned, catching sight of the Imperial Secretary. He met her, leering as he eyed her up and down. “Well, well, if it isn’t our missing councilwoman."

“Chancellor,” came her terse reply.

Calihal’s glare shifted to Karem as he passed him in the corridor, muttering, “I see the lord's 'vestal' daughter is still whoring around with dogs.”

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Sylwyn felt the tension between the two men as they exchanged words, and whirled, fixing her darkened stare on the Chancellor's back.

"If you have anything to say, Titus, then turn, and speak plainly."

The Chancellor turned around, crimson eyes ablaze. "How dare you address me that way!"

"My apologies," she replied, her tone laced with vitriol as she gave him a mock bow. "Maybe 'bastard' would better suit you."

"Bitch! For that I'll-"

"What? Throw me in a dungeon? Like you did Eilianna?"

"Bite your tongue, Kerr, or, so help me..." Calihal's fists clenched, and he visibly shuddered, his expression seething with hatred boiling under the surface.

Unclasping her traveling cloak, she thrust it at Sanders, closest to her within the stateroom, along with her satchel, and quickly strode the distance between her and the Chancellor.

Chin up, she faced him confidently, though he stood nearly a head taller and seemed to tower over her. "Go on, do it. I'm standing right here."

Calihal tensed, breathing heavily through his nostrils, but remained where he was, unblinking, as if to force her to back down by the fiery look in his eyes. He briefly glanced over the two guards, letting his gaze coming to rest on the senior guardsman before returning to the Secretary. Something must have changed in her expression, for he unclenched his fists. For a few seconds, his face went slack, his red hues glazing over. Suddenly shaking his head, he met her with narrowed eyes, thrusting a finger in her face.

"Watch your back, Wood Elf," he whispered angrily. "If you know what's good for you. Don't turn your back, not for a second. Close your eyes, and I'll make certain I'm the last thing you see before you fall asleep. I will haunt your dreams every night for the rest of your life."

Before calmly meeting Karem's eyes again, Sylwyn watched as the Chancellor turned heel, narrowly catching himself before he tripped over a black, felinous form near his feet, and stomped out of the hall.

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The Chancellor stalked down the corridor, slamming one of the arched double doors behind him, onto the landing above the hall, where people had gathered downstairs, making their way to the dining hall for the late dinner with the Ambassador. All he could see, though, was Eilianna's bloodstained face as she plunged a dagger into her neck over and over in his mind's eye, in her death throes, screaming out, "Look at me, look at me, Titus! Isn't this what you wanted? Look at me! Do you love me now? He pushed between a group of noblemen on their way upstairs, barely seeing them as he stalked downstairs and into the dining room, where most of the guests had gathered. His father glanced up on his arrival and waved him over, but he ignored the King, sliding into his own chair and gripping the edge of the table, white knuckled, still seething.

He had always suspected Sylwyn had played a hand in Eilianna's murder. Just knowing she was once a close friend, too close, was enough to make him believe that she had at least been in league with the assassin who'd made an appearance in Zamil shortly thereafter. Never mind that the Wood Elf had joined the council five years later. The nightmare he'd been forced to relive moments ago was proof enough, but he nearly sighed with relief knowing soon, the Secretary would be dealt with, and to see her tortured would be worth more to him than ending her life a thousand times. Still, somewhere, the wretched assassin yet drew breath, and Calihal would not rest until he claimed the man's life with his own hand.

...

The chest had been delivered by the Chancellor's self-appointed runner, a servant forced now to work double the time of his usual evening shift. Its contents had been laid open atop the small cloth pouches, along with a list scrawled on wrinkled parchment:

Cassava Root: 1 tuber, 25 gold
Wolfsbane (Aconitum): 500 grams, ground, 40 gold
Atropa belladonna: 3 blooms, dried, 3 gold

While the names on the receipt might have confused the guards, the Chancellor had made it clear he did not want his parcels inspected when he stormed out, about to tell them where to put their orders when the Council Secretary, escorted by Karem, intervened, turning the tables on Calihal.

...

Sylwyn stopped just long enough to turn her key and pull a door open before looking back at the pair not far behind. Accustomed to being chased in one fashion or another, she was not surprised to find herself being closely trailed by the two men, especially Karem, whom she did not at all mind. Pained at too many resurfacing memories, she nonetheless let a little smile play the corners of her mouth as the black cat followed the guardsman down the corridor. She folded her arms and leaned against the door frame, her weight shifting into her left shoulder as she curled one leg around the other, her change in posture calling attention to the swell of her right hip.

"I'm sorry you had to witness that," she said quietly, circumnavigating her own thoughts in hopes he hadn't seen past the calm, reserved front into the troubled woman she so carefully guarded. "Thank you for your company. I should wash up and change, but..." she hesitated, casting her gaze at the floor before replacing reluctance with a note of hope, and an eagerness in her eyes when she looked up again. "I will see you at dinner?"

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"You make it sound deceptively simple," she replied, almost playfully, but there was a tinge of bitter-sweetness in her voice.

After her father and kinswoman bid them both good night, she sat, still nursing her second cup of wine while she watched the guests gradually file out of the dining hall, wondering, if, in all their ignorant bliss, they remembered those whom they cherished and did not take moments like this for granted. If I bared my soul, would you still want to know me? Would you still be here? If I told you tomorrow the tides could sweep all you ever knew into the depths of oblivion, would you savor tonight?

Among the last to leave, the purple-skinned Dark Elf and queen accompanied each other, but the king remained seated next to Calihal, who gulped his wine between listening and responding to his father in quiet conversation in their native tongue. Though they spoke too quietly for her to make out all the choppy, broken words, she picked up that they were discussing the matter of some delayed shipment. A few minutes after his father left, whilst the Ambassador and his sister rose to exchange partings with both the guardsman and secretary, the Chancellor set down his empty goblet, his eyes narrowing to slits first at Sylwyn, and then Karem as he stood and made his way around the table to give an outwardly cordial farewell to the foreign ambassador.

"Don't forget to pay your whore tonight," Calihal muttered, slinking past, followed by the High Elves as they departed the hall.

Stepping up behind Karem, Sylwyn slipped her left hand around the base of his throat, letting her hair fall across his shoulder. He felt her warm breath next to his ear as she stretched over, a hint of magic in her expression that, in the moonlight, lent a shimmery iridescence to her eyes, and whispered, "Come with me, there is someplace I want to show you."

...

Calihal barely met the dark woman's glance, but she captured his hand briefly, pressing a note into his palm as they brushed past each other, going opposite directions in the west wing corridor. Unfolding the small piece of parchment, he lowered his gaze to read the scrawled Drow script on the page.

The "hound" is in Koroth. I will return at dawn.

Grinning, he folded the paper and stuck it in his breast pocket, waggling his eyebrows suggestively at a passing guard.

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The Chancellor stopped outside his doors, glancing to either guard posted outside and trying to discern whether they had seen anything unusual, but they appeared indifferent, even a little standoffish. He turned the handle and stepped inside. Shutting himself in, he hesitated, thinking to lock his door when he detect the slightest rustle of linens from across the room.

Fingers still clasping the lock, he peered over his shoulder at a nude form sprawled on the bed, partly concealed by the burgundy quilt. That shoulder-length white hair, azure skin, tautly muscled chest and glaring crimson hues... he may as well have been looking into a mirror.

"A little late aren't you, Chancellor?" a woman's voice rasped from those thin lips, but a thief of faces grinned back at him, folding its arms behind its head. "Your servant girl left only moments ago. If you hurry, you might catch her."

...

Breathless, her blood rushing to her extremities, Sylwyn hardly noticed the heat of the spyglass against her skin, but she felt Sennex’s weight lift from her shoulder as he took wing. She did not bother to look back, but tugged her jeweled comb loose, letting her her hair fly free in the wind, dashing toward the palisade where a gap opened to cleft in the rock face overlooking a sandy cove. Leaning out over the shallow decline, she grasped at one of the intact wooden planks to steady herself and cast an eye over the secluded beach.

The frothing waves slapping against the shore and receding into the black sea, silvery light sparkling off its surface like diamonds and, she glanced back, Karem jogging toward her- she could just make out his features in moonlight- It’s perfect, even if it’s only the dead calm before the tempest. If tomorrow, everything changes, I don’t care. She met his eyes, both afraid and elated at what she thought… what she hoped she might find. Because there is only person with whom I want to spend tonight.