The young girl shook before Emperor Jugan. Her white hair and fair eyes lent her a rather innocent appearance. In truth, her beauty was nothing to be fooled by. She was a Frost Seer. Her heart was as dark as the Devil itself and the Emperor knew it.
The oppressive walls of the Frost Estate’s throne room gave Jugan great comfort. For others, they brought a sense of unease. His throne cradled his well-built frame; a white gold masterpiece that glistened like starlight.
‘Tell me, Reiza, are you certain about these visions?’
Jugan’s face drew down at the corners. He studied the child, wondering how one so young could wield such power. She was still but a novice. Nowadays, even that marked her as a precious commodity. Most ancient seers were long dead, leaving the few that were born to fend for themselves.
‘I am sure, your Grace. Your eldest son is destined to marry the enemy. If that happens, there is no doubt that he will have secured your throne for future generations.’
Fear crept into the Emperor’s eyes. He clenched them shut, unable to rid himself of the child’s words. His Eldest son, Ryore, was his crowning disappointment; so feeble minded, as no Emperor should be.
Jugan eyed the curious girl, with her long white locks and vexing beauty. The last of her kind. Her eyes roved about the glittering room, seeming to memorize every detail, from its cold blue walls to the harsh glare of the lights above. All that power, he thought, and all you do is stand there, shaking. Reiza’s visions had brought shocking details to light for him. While he knew she was only conveying the truth of what she’d seen, certain details of these visions caused his mind to rage. His eldest was never to ascend his throne. He made a weak Prince and would only make a more pitiful Emperor. No. If Jugan had to plot his own son’s demise, then so be it.
‘Have you told anyone else of these visions?’
‘No Sire. I have told no one else. I am loyal to our realm and only our realm.’
Emperor Jugan admired her honesty. The girl already appeared to be more promising than he had anticipated.
His words were like ice, cutting across the blinding space. When Reiza prepared to take a step, he held up his palm.
′Not you child. Him.′
A tall figure lurked in the shadows. Reiza watched as the creature materialized out of thin air. Like a night-time shadow, it glided along the cool stone floor, intent on reaching the waiting Emperor. With it came the strangest sensation, a tingling that started within the toes and gradually worked up the rest of the body. When the brilliant light hit its skin, every solemn feature was revealed.
Jugan heard Reiza managed to stifle a gasp. They were no more a thing of shadow than them, but a fine young man, dressed head to toe in slimming black. A little muscle clung to his flesh, but what caught people’s attention the most were his eyes. They were red. Like pale blood-diamonds, they stared you down, piercing into the deepest depths of your soul. The intense tingling followed the new arrival.
‘Emperor Jugan, a pleasure.’
The young man’s voice was as deep as those eyes. His words penetrated the very air, leaving a terrible sense of foreboding in his wake. Reiza watched him bow low before the Emperor, appearing to marvel at his long hair, already a mass of silvery grey. Jugan almost felt like chuckling.
‘Welcome, Prince Arlas. You may rise.’
Arlas immediately straightened. He looked to Jugan as a servant would its master, his eyes glowing that fearsome red.
‘Still dressed as the stealthiest of shadows, I see.’
Arlas grinned at the Emperor’s joke; an unsightly image if ever there was one, as pointed fangs protruded from his gums.
The Emperor calmly appraised the boy. Arlas had always been willing to get his hands dirty, for which Jugan was eternally thankful. He could think of no-one better to carry out this specific task.
‘I suppose you’re wondering why I summoned you.’
‘The thought had crossed my mind.’
Arlas gave the Emperor a good natured wink.
‘Arlas, young Reiza here is quite certain of the visions she’s been having of late. She believes that the daughter of our greatest enemy is destined to become my eldest’s wife. This presents a problem for me. If this does indeed happen, then Ryore will gain a firm hold on my throne, particularly if he is able to produce a strong heir. As such, I will be needing you to do me a favour.’
He shot the boy a serious look, which would have stricken terror into any mortal man. But the Prince was no mortal. Despite their youthful appearance, Air Mages were known to live well past a hundred years. Their life span merely extended itself, as long as they were willing to make occasional sacrifices. So it was told.
Arlas gave only a polite nod. He showed no fear regarding what he’d be asked, nor uncertainty.
’My price, Sire, for carrying out this favour?′
Jugan’s gaze passed from the Mage to the young seer. He was confident in his knowledge that this here was a man whom he could trust like no other. If Reiza’s predictions were in fact true, then he would need to act swiftly. But, what could he offer a man who was already immortal?
‘Power.’ Jugan’s voice ricocheted off the walls. ‘I can grant you access to magic that you’ve only heard of in your wildest dreams, provided that you do not fail me.’
Arlas appeared to consider this offer. He scratched at a mess of stubble on his chin, nodding once to agree to the bargain.
‘Very well. As you know, I would like my youngest, Prince Fadius, to take my throne once I am gone. In order to make sure he becomes my successor, I need you to dispose of the girl who is destined to become Ryore’s wife.’
‘Sire, why not simply do away with Ryore? After all, who would suspect a father of murdering his own son?’
Jugan’s lips curved into a sneer. He had wondered when the Mage would bring this up.
‘Alas Arlas, my eldest has quite the few tricks up his sleeve. He will be hard to take out. No, impossible. It would be better to break his soul and ensure that he cannot gain future claims to the throne.’
Arlas nodded his understanding.
‘And then, I can have Ryore for myself?’
Reiza’s small voice chimed out through the room. It brimmed with desperation, her eyes wide and pleading. Jugan waved his hand in the girl’s direction.
‘Yes, whatever you want, so long as you are still a maiden when the time comes for him to marry.’
Jugan’s guards, having seen the dismissive gesture, began to approach the elaborate throne. They were beefy men, with more muscle than any one man should have.
‘Sire?’ They gave brief bows, their eyes focused upon the Seer. ’Are we to escort the young Miss out?′
Reiza glanced up, clearly horrified. Tears had begun to form in her eyes at the idea of these large bullies carting her away. They pressed in at either side of her, waiting for the Emperor’s command.
‘Please do. I’ve had enough of her visions for one day.’
Jugan watched as each guard seized one of Reiza’s arms, hauling her toward a pair of grand double doors.
Her wilful protests echoed back. Before long, they were no more.
‘You know Arlas, I think this might actually work.’
Jugan beckoned the Prince towards the throne.
‘Young Reiza named a Miss Violetta Flame to one day wed Ryore. She is the one I would like taken care of.’
‘Is there any particular way you’d like her dealt with?’
The Emperor rose up, out of his icy throne. His eyes locked onto the Mage.
‘Quite simply, I would like you to put an end to Miss Flame’s existence.’
Arlas frowned. He would no doubt understand what was expected of him. He was to use his powers to facilitate the girl’s death. Only then would he have proven himself to the Emperor.
‘Arlas, you look troubled. Does this task displease you?’
‘It seems like a bit of a gamble, Sire.’
‘Life is a gamble. All we can do is play the cards that we are dealt and make a little extra of ourselves if given the chance. I’m offering you the cards to play, that lead to power and influence. Play them!’
Jugan’s thoughts turned to the boy’s potential betrayal. He contemplated his actions, should such an unpleasant event ever occur.
‘Now, I’ll ask again. Arlas, does this task displease you?’
Arlas stared deep into his master’s eyes.
‘No Sire. The task is mine to carry out.’
Jugan relaxed back into his throne.
‘Good. Tell me Arlas, do you think your brother will suspect?’
‘No Sire. He will not suspect a thing.’