The dry sandstone walls of the small cell are orange from the sun fading outside the small high window crossed with thick bars of some silver-white metal. The last of the sun’s dying light reflects dully off the sturdy silver-white metal door. The door of my cell, the bars on the windows, and even the cage of rods inside the sandstone walls are all composed of the same thing. Mithril- the mythic element known for it’s ability to re-charge it’s own enchantments with surrounding mana. A special cell that steals away my magic bit by bit as the hours pass. I never would have known this before, but even now I can feel it slowly stealing away my life even as I breath. My breath forming a soft cloud in the air despite the desert heat of my homeland.
Besides me the room is empty, and I sit with my clawed hands on my knees in the back right corner.
I sigh, staring at the intricate latticework of pure white scales that reaches to just above my elbows. I raise my arm and turn the thick segmented armor plates on the backs of my fingers to catch the light and shine brilliant white. I stare at the much thinner layers of banded scales on the underside of each finger by the ring-like armor plates of each joint, and the thick carapace of my palm.
I had a name not long ago, before my hair grew long and pale white. Before I lost my manhood to the curious gauntlets that have now fused themselves to my body.
I have not seen anyone since I woke up in this cell. I am most definitely female now for whatever good or ill that could possibly do at this point especially given this cell lacks even a chamber pot. I am around the same size as before though noticeably less skeletal as though this body has never had to go without a meal for long. I am still wearing my cleaning slave’s rags but fortunately the new bulk on my chest is little and is still covered by tearing off the trailing excess from my loincloth- an over sized strip of cloth made to not need replacing as a child slave grows into an adult. I wrap the excess carefully around my chest and tighten it best I can. I let out a pained gasp as the resulting pressure squashes my peaches painfully against my chest- but I after loosening it just slightly I tie it behind my back.
Damn that is going to be really uncomfortable for however much time it is until I am executed.
I should probably explain myself- I was known as Ian Carroll a young boy of around fifteen years who’s father used to run a tavern back in my home city of Vispith. Vispith is a city in the Imperial Sun Kingdom, a hot, dry, and arid land well known for it’s total devotion to the great warrior god of the Sun Helion. Mother died when I was young in childbirth along with my unborn sister so I spent most of my life helping my father in our tavern called the Brass Ingot as the place became more and more rowdy. What was in my mother’s time a favorite watering hole for the guards of the great Caravans across the desert slowly became a den of thieves and swindlers.
When the Red Fever hit the city only a year ago I lost everything. When father passed away from the sickness along with many others in the city and with much of it burned by the riots that followed, the land our old tavern was built on was taken for the rebuilding. The money was not enough to pay off the constables of Vispith who had been told to round up all the homeless children to sell as slaves to pay for the reconstruction.
Six months of travel hitched in caravans, several fierce beatings, and one slavery brand later and I finally got a break being bought by the palace to be sent scurrying around the massive exhibits in my assigned section like the other slaves.
After a while the other slaves in the caravan stopped trying to pick on me- living the first fourteen years of my life in the most violent Tavern in the Sun Kingdoms tends to lead to a person becoming rather handy in a brawl.
That and how to clean bodily fluids, shards of bone, and gods alone know what else off of tables, floors, walls, rafters…
My job was as you may have guessed from both the gauntlets on my hands, and from the Imperial Sun Kingdom’s long history of religious wars- inevitably as a slave cleaning the floors in the largely abandoned wing of the palace decorated by cursed artifacts left behind from long conquered or annihilated heretical tribes and kingdoms. that is where this mess started- two nights ago when I was making my rounds dusting the exhibits.
~Ian the slave~
The air in the Royal Palace is as usual dusty and metallic. The great vaulted halls, polished limestone tiles hauled all the way from the great eastern ocean, enormous pillars, and the lonely shadowed display pieces on their pedestals in each enormous room gives the entire vast the air of a long forgotten tomb this late at night. Even the tapestry’s and soft padded chairs alongside the furnishings of the royal dinning hall nearly a kilometer of halls away hardly give the place any warmth. I line up by the statue with the seventy six other slave cleaners for the other sections in the deep shadows of the atrium. The gleaming statue at the front of the Hall of Victory is an impressive work of art the first hundred times you see it. The enormous marble statue of Helion resplendent in full armor thrusting his sun spear beyond the great celestial shield to pierce the open maw of an enormous rune beast dominates the hall.
Still it looses something when you scurry past it at least twice each night to clean the floors in one of the twelve secondary wings. After this month’s inspection where the old overseer checks over all of us to ensure no one is missing I carefully exit the overseer’s view in an orderly line with the other cleaner slaves before I can dash off across the smooth floor towards the rightmost archway in the third wing to the hall that will eventually take me to the Cursed section. As the other cleaners break away I nod first at the large dark shape of the rough muscled heavily tanned but extremely kind servant named Gregory, and then at the newest cleaner a small platinum blonde slave-girl by the name of Crystal as I follow my boss Gregory on our nightly journey. Gregory was the one who found me in the slave market and brought me here to clean- a comparatively easy job to hard labor, or ending up as some mage’s experiment. I will follow orders- but only because they are given by the closest thing I have had to a friend in years. The trip from the Hall of Victory up through the three northeast halls, through the two passages hidden behind tapestry’s depicting the coronations of the First, and fifth Kings of the Sun, and up the three flights of servants stairs means that it is over an hour before we arrive at the large arched hall that is the biggest of the two rooms in our tiny section. I clean the small garden greenhouse at the far end of the enormous display case lined hall as usual. Gregory cleans the hall with Crystal to show her the ropes. At this point despite the shear size of the hall with well over twenty meter-long display cases in two rows in the massive hall one may be wondering why it takes three people to clean the floors of a big hall and a six-meter glass brick lined greenhouse with mops.
The answer to that is the real reason no one wants this job- the youngest princess. Her Imperial Highness Empress Relatriss the third had this particular greenhouse built for her third daughter Princess Vescelia as a present for her tenth birthday one year ago. The princess loves raising rare flowering plants, and this particular greenhouse is her personal favorite. The greenhouse is filled with exotic fragrances from more than fifty variety’s of strange and colorful as well as elegant latticework shelves holding jars of all the extracts, soils, and fluids the princess requires to raise her flowers. There is only a single pedestal in the center of the room with brick planters of soil encircling the edges of the greenhouse with lush plants of every possible description. Inside the eternally cold and misty room my thin sack-cloth robes stick to me like a second skin alongside my shaggy brown hair as I shiver. The four grey brick planters of , and the set of ethereal white armored gauntlets of scales held together with brilliant cerulean eternal ice on the grey marble pedestal are all the Princess’s personal collection.
The princes is known to visit this place late at night when we are assigned to clean. A dangerous proposition as the penalty for a commoner setting eyes on a member of the royal family is death.
I am here to pick fallen leaves up off the grey brickwork. The leaves in here present little danger if one knows not to directly touch the pale blue saw-edged leaves with a thin layer of fuzz that mark the leaves of the Burning Astarte plant. Gregory warned me about those on the first day- a very cold weather plant the Empress loves the way the oil of the leaves combusts on contact with human flesh and gifted them to the disfavored third princess in what was in the opinion of both Gregory and I likely a botched assassination attempt. The princess as it turns out absolutely loves the delicate glowing purple-blue blossoms that open each full moon to glow brilliantly in the light.
In addition the young princess apparently discovered that the leaves of the Burning Astarte plant lose their potency during the full moon and so always comes to this greenhouse on the night of a full moon to both tend to and view the blossoms.
Unfortunately for me both Gregory and I had failed to properly keep track of the stages of the moon. Tonight as I started carefully picking the thin needle like leaves of the frost trumpets off the bricks I catch sight of the gauntlets on the stand, the glowing blossoms and beyond them the gleaming silver moon.
It was at exactly this point when I knew I was absolutely screwed, it would however soon become apparent that my luck was even worse than I would ever have thought possible.
I would eventually learn this is just how my life works now, however at the time I just had not yet come to even approach grasping just how catastrophic this would turn out to be.
For me, the princesses, Gregory, Crystal, as well as the rest of the Imperial Royalty, and international politics in general.
The third princess is the child of the third emperor the current empress has been married to, and her father has lasted by far the longest against the Empress. She would be one of the only parties I will benefit through the impending disaster, though I will certainly not begrudge her this. As the second Heir to the Throne Princess Vescelia is the near constant target of assassination attempts by the court of nobles following her mother in trying to slay her father. This will become very important momentarily.
I spend a little over twenty minutes kneeling on the floor and scoping up leaves in my cloth sack as fast as I can before one of the two large silver wood doors behind me gives two soft clicks- the princess finding the door unlocked. I lock my eyes to the ground in a panic and try to finish up the remaining third of the room but I hear a soft swish as the door opens and the soft startled gasp of the fourteen year old princess behind me. Fortunately every slave and servant has been told at some point how to act with royalty about. I close my eyes tight, and turn to bow on my knees palms on the ground alongside my forehead in what I assume is the general direction of the princess.
I can hear her bare feet on the grey bricks as she walks softly over to the shelf by the door. I just have to stay like this as long as she is here- but there is a second set of much softer, more terrifyingly familiar footsteps known well among the servants. The sound of the Crown Princess’s trailing dress like rustling leaves.
“Raise your head. I wish to get a better look at you.” a high imperious voice clear, cold and commanding splits the air like a dagger parting ribs. It takes my mind a moment to process the fact that the older sister of Princess Vescelia, the Crown Princess just acknowledged the existence of a slave. The Crown princess seems to take special pleasure in caring for her little sister, but is known as a terror to anyone else. She is known for sneaking about the halls at night, and requiring servants to tell her all they overhear regardless of that it will lead to their deaths. It is because of her that all the servant’s in the noble’s quarters have their tongues cut out for fear of her finding the nobles secrets. I carefully raise my head keeping my eyes shut tight.
The princess gives a low annoyed hum to herself. as her littlesister stands silently behind her. “Interesting choice on Gregory’s part I suppose. Not exactly what I expected for a last-ditch defense of myself, and my little sister, but I suppose there has to be something about you for him to place you here for the last few months.” The high imperious sounding girl gives a long tired sigh and suddenly sounds like simply a very tired young woman as she says
“The assassination is likely going to take place tonight when the moon is full so that the assassins can use the leaves of the Burning Astarte plant to depose of our corpses. As mother has unfortunately found yet more reasons for my, and my sister’s personal guard to be elsewhere for the month Gregory has arranged for your life to guard our persons in addition to his own.” I can feel the circle and cross of the slave brand on my neck burn slightly in confirmation of the order. Shit the brand normally itches for orders.
“You have for this night the singular honor of serving as a last line of defense for our persons from mother. You may open your eyes and witness our visage on this night as a reward for this service. Know however that should I or my sister perish the brand upon your neck will burn you alive.” Well this is totally unexpected.
Also since when is Gregory the floor-sweeper even remotely related to arranging for the defense of the Princesses? Seriously Gregory what the thousand hells did you get yourself into this time? Eh… There is a lot that does not make sense here, but the brand starts to itch so I open my eyes.
The out of favor nineteen year old princess is decidedly gorgeous as expected of the daughter of a mother often called The Nightshade of the Imperium- beautiful but lethal. The crown princess in all but that her magic has not awakened like her younger sister, the Crown princess cannot marry or become Empress until she has awoken her magic and trained it by the laws of the Imperium. Until then the second princess Clarina, older twin of Princess Vescelia is the favored of the Queen as the only one of the Princesses to have awoken. The Crown Princess traditionally abandons her name until she is accepts a new one as Empress, her Pale smooth skin a fine figure, long wavy black hair down to the hem of her simple yet elegant white nightgown describes her well enough. She is taller than me by two heads and she stands with her arms crossed, staring down at me with two deep blue eyes. Her thin fragile face is calm, her eyes are steel. Her little sister Princess Vescelia is almost identical though smaller and only fourteen. The youngest Princes’s deep storm-grey eyes betray her fear, and her face is white with terror.
“You may stand and make preparations to defend us, but know that any harm upon my person will be first transferred to yourself. Should my sister suffer any injury I will see that you die in pain.” Eh figures the royals have something that would have come in really handy back at the Brass Ingot in breaking up the nightly brawls.
I stand carefully on the stones as the youngest princess turns to lock the door, then follows her sister who walks past me to sit carefully on the side of the planter facing the door. There is a hint of sadness in princess Vescelia’s eyes and she grimaces to herself as I turn away to grab a fist full of dirt from the nearest planter. Not the neatest way of fighting but the soft black soil below the glowing flowers is damp and spongy. I step quickly over to the vials of various fluids and as I try to find something caustic or stinging.
I am pleasantly surprised by a small bottle of some variety of fine brandy in among the jars for some reason. The bottle is mostly empty, and as I begin soaking the dirt in it the Crown Princess speaks once more. “Please explain your curious actions. I fail to see how wasting liquor on dirt is of any use in protecting my person.”
Dammit Gregory! If either of us survive this I am going to be pissed you made me explain bar brawling to a princess. I am almost certainly going to die for this, but I don’t really have any other ideas so here goes.
“Your Majesty her Royal highness, due to the lack of weapons and possibly facing armed assassins I am currently resorting to a-”
Luckily for me, and my fortunately short attempt to explain bar fighting to the Imperium’s Crown Princess- that’s when the air around us seemed to pop, and the doorsare forced outwards by a blast of air with a thunderous boom.
The shock wave from the blast of air sends me reeling but I manage to stay standing through years worth of practice and see two black cloaked figures enter in a cloud of dust beyond the doorway. I toss the mixture into the eye holes of some hind of indescribable mask that is making his face hard to focus on. He still screams in agony as the mixture goes right where I aimed. The second figure is smaller and darts towards me fast with a long thin silver dagger covered in fresh blood crossing the short distance impossibly fast as his companion s try’s frantically to wipe the alcoholic mud out of his eyes. The second assassin darts to the side to dodge around me but I smash the small bottle of brandy against the side of his hooded head out of reflex- my hand shuddering with the familiar feeling of impact. I follow up swiping my leg behind his right knee shoving the sharp edge of the shattered bottle deep into his gut and twisting to help him to the ground with a shove to the neck of the bottle in his ruined stomach. The first assassin has recovered enough to see and lunges with a thin silver blade as I glass his partner. I use the shove off the dying man to stagger back towards the center of the room and avoid the dagger thrusting into my side but the man grabs me with one black gloved hand in an iron grip. The assassin shoves my back hard against the pedistal bringing his dagger in on the right to slit my throat as I am already reaching back to grab the only object within reach to block the finishing blow.
As my hand grips the left gauntlet I can feel a odd sensation in the back of my mind and everything freezes. Soft blue light has started to drift off of the gauntlets behind me in little wisps to form a growing shape. I try to scream in terror as I realize I have accidentally activated a heretical magic tool.
All magic in the world is cast using techniques and forms refined from observing the twelve holy tools given to man by the gods of this world. Twelve great kingdoms forged with the might of the gods. But through history this has not been enough for everyone. Supposedly false devices of power forged from the remnants of terrible magical beasts have shown up throughout the history of our world, wielded as holy relics by those outside the twelve covenant countries. These devices vary in quality, form, and in utility but the punishment for one’s use is the same in all cases within the Imperial Kingdom of the Sun- immediate execution.
Many of the items within the palace on display were once revered as the magical tools of great heroes, sages, and other legendary figures before the Imperium consumed their people.
The assassin’s grip is solid as the world stands still.
The lights have begun to form into a shape not far on the right side of the assassin- a small girl of around fifteen, extremely pale with pure white hair, and eyes the color of lapis lazuli. she is wearing a pure white mages robe as she seems to consider me.
“Yes. A bit rough around the edges but you will do quite nicely.” her voice is emotionless, cold as the world begins to thaw, and there is an explosion of brilliant white.
That is my story- a barman’s brat made a slave, and then by some horrid irony fantastically screwing up the entirely unexpected job of guarding the Crown and third Princesses as a last-ditch living shield.
Of course the mithril in the walls is still seeping away the magic within me, and with it my life. I spend several minutes silently laughing to myself at the thought that because of the means by which the Imperium has imprisoned me I actually may die before they can kill me. Imperial justice at it’s finest.
So funny that -despite the enslavement of free citizens being a capital offence in the empire- that justice always seemed to be in very short supply back in Vispith…
Hmm… Perhaps the Emperor is planning a new crusade and so has simply decided to save it all up until righteousness simply breaks through the gates in a great wave?
Night fell hours ago and the waning moon rises bright and full somewhere beyond the high slit window of my cell. I have long since begun scratching out whatever riddles I can think of to pass the time. My claws gouge deep into the limestone with little resistance. I never learned my letters, and though I can read them the symbols are not like any of those I have seen before.
What purpose of water that through neither sun’s light nor fire’s glow flows-
Simple. The old tribes of the far north once sealed their labyrinthine tombs with the same eternal ice as my bones made malleable by the cold of the north and through powerful magic. When the tomb was sealed it would be fired into a wall that will ignore time and mage fire alike. It’s purpose is to protect what lies within from all intrusion.
Where old lies waiting from the world’s riot, in untouched unchanging eternal quiet-
Another easy one. The great mountainous walls of ice –glaciers- in the frozen barrens are of great interest to scholars and mages of Ice alike as they hold creatures from long ago frozen in their moment of death. Great furry beasts with massive tusks, enormous shaggy horned bears, and even a few colossal Rune beasts born from some unimaginable magic’s misuse long ago lie forever as terrible monuments to horrors long ago.
Though some are simply sleeping.
I laugh at the thought as it falls through my mind cold and sharp as glacial melt. I do not know where these fragments of knowledge have been born from in my mind. Just as I cannot name the great citadel of pale stone that waits within an icy mountain. Hewn from the earth long ago a great chasm thrusts deep into the earth from the mountain’s peak in my mind, the great stone Palace built into the highest walls of the leviathan tunnel entrance to the home of my mother and father so very long ago.
I giggle as I carve deep into the walls a message to whoever next waits to die in this cell. That they may know who came before. I know I will die but something deep within me will only accept my fate and succumb if I do this.
In frozen earth and biting snow was found a hunter long ago.
Horror of Ice from breath forged first snow bound to guard deep below.
But while warden waited long asleep, the living metal left it’s sheath.
Searching frost finding snow, power deep where did it go?
Cold ice splinters through oceans span, as wrath of winter falls over the land.
Brave and Magic come quell Jaws of the snow terror thrice, and to this Mother born Gauntlets of Ice.
To thine by whom this message be seen, know the shell of winter’s scion wait’s in between.
Should burden be shared until lost be found
By frozen hell to thee I be bound.