Imperial Suite <Fastheld Keep>

A spacious chamber that serves as the innermost sanctum of the most important individual in the realm of Fastheld: Emperor Talus Kahar.
The room includes two washbasins, multiple chamber pots that servants frequently replace for cleaning, twin wardrobes for clothing, and a four-post bed with an arched white canopy, polished brownwood headboard, thick beige blankets and comfortable fowl-feather pillows. Two angled writing tables are in two corners, where the Emperor or his assigned scribe may transcribe correspondence.
High wooden doors lead out into the quarters corridor, while a pair of smaller doors open onto the suite's private balcony overlooking the residence's courtyard.

Talus Kahar is, at the moment, in bed. He hasn't been out of bed all day, from what the servants say. His forehead is beaded with sweat. His eyes are dark and sunken. His cheeks are flushed. He doesn't look at all well.

There is only the lightest of knocks on the door, just enough to warn someone inside if they are up and about, but hopefully not enough to waken if they are still slumbering. Without waiting for a response beyond a second or two's pause, Ashlynn lets herself into the suite after a tentative peek inside, closing the door gingerly behind her again. "Talus?" she murmurs worriedly, rapidly striding toward the bed.

Talus Kahar opens his eyes, looking blearily at Ashlynn before he coughs into his hand. A harsh, hacking cough. He waves his other hand, motioning her away. "Pox," he rasps. "Go." That's about all he has strength for, sinking back into his pillow and shivering violently under layers of warm blankets as the faintest hints of darkening spots manifest on his skin.

"But..." Ashlynn halts uncertainly a few strides from his bedside, fists clenching helplessly as she glances between him and the door. "They told me you were ill, but...are you certain? I can't just leave you by yourself..." Unconsciously, she inches forward another step.

The Emperor doesn't respond, save for the continued quaking of his form and the trickling of his sweat.

Ashlynn closes her eyes, biting her lip in frustration and indecision, before she takes a deep breath and husks, "I'll be back in a moment, Talus. The council is meeting...they should know." And with a touch of her fingertips to her pursed lips, she turns swiftly on her heel and strides out of the room.

Some time later...

Chaori Balsam would have been shown in by the Emperor's guards. She finds the Emperor himself bundled up in bed, sweating and slightly twitching. Dark spots are starting to form on his skin. The only other people in the room are a couple of maidservants, their faces masked with cloth as they stay as far from the Emperor as they can, while occasionally dabbing at his forehead with damp rags.

Chaori Balsam curtseys once at the door, then hurries over to the bed and kneels next to it for a moment. "Ah," she says, looking at the spots. "My name is Chaori Balsam, Majesty. I am not the best healer in the realm, but I am something of an expert on the dark pox. How do you feel, other than fevered?"

"He's not talking much, m'lady," one maidservant says, her voice faintly muffled by the cloth covering her nose and mouth. "Hasn't said a word since he sent Lady Ashlynn away to the Council." She dips the cloth into a bucket of cool water beside the bed. "You can make him better, aye?"

Chaori Balsam rises. "I am here to try. If I lived, so can he. Has he been coughing at all?"

The maidservant nods. "Oh, aye. Quite a bit. The fits come and go."

Chaori Balsam frowns. "That's not good. How long since he first had a fever?"

"Don't know for right certain, m'lady," the maidservant replies. "He's a quiet man, the Emperor is. Never complains much. But he's been down like this a few hours. He takes ill badly, especially with his lungs, though. Always has, since he were a boy. His Kahar malady, y'see."

Chaori Balsam slowly nods, looking thoughtful. "The dark pox is moving unusually fast in him. Try to wake him, please. He needs to be conscious for his medicine." She walks over to the nearest surface, drops her cloak and gloves, and begins to mix up an herbal remedy.

The maidservant keeps the cloth in her hand, using it to act as a buffer as she gives the Emperor's shoulder a nudge. "Majesty? Wake up, m'lord. Medicine for ye." Talus Kahar XIV responds by slowly blinking his eyes, looking vacantly at the maidservant. "Ash?" he says. The maidservant shakes her head, then looks back to Chaori. "Good as he'll get, I reckon."

Chaori Balsam says to the maid, "We'll have to get that fever down, too." She scoops up the nearest cup (the one she brought in a satchel if she can't find another), pours a nasty-looking liquid into it and brings it to Talus. "Drink, Your Majesty. Please. It only tastes like poison, I swear."

The maidservant takes the cup and helps cradle the Emperor's head up long enough for her to put the cup to his mouth - now hanging open. She pours some of the remedy down. He swallows on reflex and then coughs. The maidservant lets him go, allowing the coughing fit and spasms to pass. Then she repeats this until she empties the cup down his throat. After that, she gives the cup back to Chaori and moves back to wait and see how well the remedy works.

Chaori Balsam tells the maids, "It will take time to work. His fever is much too high. Go draw him a cool bath. We'll have to keep him in there for a while."

The maidservants bow their heads, perhaps in all too much of a hurry to get away from the infected Emperor before the plague takes them as well. The door clicks shut behind them moments later, leaving Chaori alone with the ruler of Fastheld.

Chaori Balsam is in a near-panic at the thought of a civil war occuring on top of the dark pox. That will of steel bends for just a moment and something green and shining reaches out...

Talus Kahar shakes his head back and forth on the sweat-soaked pillow as Chaori's magic wars with the illness festering inside his body. He doesn't appear to be getting any better. The pox mark his skin darkly, his eyes remain sunken, his skin grows pallid while still sweating with fever. But he awakens. He awakens and puts a clammy hand toward Chaori. He says: "Ashlynn. Need Ashlynn."

Chaori Balsam nods. "Lie still, Majesty. I'll fetch her." Chaori hurries off. Presumably she'll fetch things in a bit.

Some time later...

If possible, Emperor Talus Kahar XIV looks even worse than he did before Ashlynn left him to inform the Council. His face is blistering with pox sores. It would seem his predisposition to suffer worse than normal at illnesses, especially those affecting the lungs, is allowing the dark pox to feed on him like a wildfire on dry brush.

There is no knock this time, the courier already familiar with the placement of the room's occupant, though she slips in just as quietly and carefully. At least, until she spies his current condition, and her breath chokes on his name. "Talus...oh Light..." she whispers fearfully, rushing toward his bedside.

"Not ... not too close," Talus rasps, shaking his head weakly. He can barely keep his swollen eyes open. He coughs violently. "Not good, huh?"

"It doesn't matter," Ashlynn husks, though she does not push the matter, contenting herself with simply hovering near rather than continue to distress him. "Nearly all the council members that showed up tonight seemed to be falling ill by slow degrees. Rather than trying to simply isolate it - a rather hopeless task by this point - we should find some cure...or a way to nurse someone through it."

"Healer tried..." The Emperor's voice trails off. He grunts, then says, "Not better. Ash ... not gonna be."

Ashlynn flinches at the words, shaking her head vehemently as she sinks down to her knees to be closer to his level. "No! It has been barely a few days could anyone give up yet? And...and we have other resources. If Ester were here..." She sighs, rocking back on her heels as she bows her head, eyes squeezed tight shut. "Ester...what happened to her? But perhaps Duhnen knows of other healers...I could ask Vhramis if he knows of any in the wildlands..."

Talus Kahar shakes his head, coughing again. "Ash, no time. Too sick, too fast. My body..." He closes his eyes for a few moments and then reopens them, trying to get his bearings in the shadowy confines of the suite. "Need to get Serath. Regent. You and he watch over ... the boy. All right?"

Ashlynn's head snaps up, the possibility of his demise finally making itself felt in heart rather than simply mind as a lone tear slides down her shocked features. "Shades, Talus, after all we have been through, you're just giving up?!" She scrubs an angry fist across her eyes as she pushes herself awkwardly back to her feet. "I'll go get Duhnen now...I don't know how far he can jump or whatever it is he does, but if he can get you to the Wall faster than a horse... If we get you beyond the Aegis, perhaps you'll have a better time of it, and then there may be a healer who can help..."

The Emperor sighs, rasping. "Not ... giving up. Just ... I *know*. I know. So sore. So tired." His glassy eyes fix on Ashlynn and he says, "*Serath*. His blood. Protect the boy." He manages a weak smile. "I would have liked another summer. At our house. I'm ... sorry. Sorry." His voice trails off and his eyes close.

"You don't know anything!" Ashlynn dares to cry back at an emperor, panic finally overcoming all reservations as she reaches out desperately to check his breath and pulse. "Talus, don't regret...don't regret anything, please, you'll have it all, I swear..."

He breathes raggedly, raspily for a few more moments. Labored and harsh, like an overweight fieldworker hauling an overfilled grain sack up a steep rise. But then the breaths come slower, shallower, until they're little more than fading whispers - tiny secrets uttered in a cavernous chapel. Then they come not at all.

"Talus? Talus!" Ashlynn gasps, tears spilling unashamedly down her face now as she shakes his shoulders, chafes his cheeks, and then finally starts screaming as she buries both hands in the emperor's shirt and bodily shakes him, "EMMON! Oh Light, Emmon, please help him, HELP ME!"

The door swings open and Emmon storms in, followed by the other guards on watch outside. Well, the others don't storm in. They sort of stagger in, looking weak and feverish. Emmon's not doing too well himself, but he tries not to make a big deal about it.

A small crowd of guards have staggered in, led by Emmon, while Ashlynn is kneeling upon the bed, frantically shaking the emperor. At their entry, the courier pays them only a single, wild glance, gaze blind behind her tears, before she returns her attention toward rousing Talus as if he is simply being a slugabed. "Emmon! He's stopped breathing, Shades, Light, I don't care - what do I do?!"

"Stopped breathing?" Emmon blinks and moves around to the other side of the bed to look at the Emperor. "Lady Ashlynn, I'm no healer. He's always been susceptible to these things. You sure he's not breathing. I can't tell." He leans close, eyes narrowing as he peers at Talus.

Duhnen has just arrived the top of the stairs out in the hall, the man sweating profusely, when the surge of guards rushed into the suite at the courier's alarmed shouts. The Surrector moves in a rush as well, following behind the group, and moving to get a closer look at Talus. "Light," he murmurs, his face growing more pale.

Ashlynn snatches her hands back at Emmon's surmise, as if the very possibility that she might be mistaken and could be worsening the emperor's fragile condition is too much a horror to contemplate. "Can't tell?" she echoes shrilly, staring down at the still countenance. "Please let me mistaken..." she begs on a whisper, trembling fingertips reaching for the man's pulse point under the jaw, and to hover over his lips and nose, *willing* there to be movement in the air around them.

Nothing. No breath. No pulse. Not a twitch of muscle. The Emperor of Fastheld's body gives off a great deal of feverish heat, though - exhaust from the fading vessel.

"Love of the Light," Duhnen curses, the man looking to Ashlynn, and then to the guards, before grabbing the courier and dragging her from the bed. He feverishly whispers to her. "I can take him. I can...try and take him. Right now. It'll be hard. I may not be able to do it. But I can try. I can get him to a vault, where there may be a healer who can help him. I...can't cover the distance all at once, but I can make a series of smaller jumps."

Ashlynn shrieks when she is first pulled away, pent up frustration and fury ready to be turned on a physical source, before Duhnen's words sink in. Panting, shaking, she stares uncomprehendingly at him for a moment before sobbing. "Please! Oh, by anything that cares anymore in this world, please try..."

Emmon stares at Ashlynn, then at Duhnen. "What are you talking about?"

Duhnen turns to fix his gaze on the ever stubborn Emmon. Transporting the Emperor across Fastheld magically may be difficult, but this could prove to be even more so. "Out. You and your men out. You can do nothing for him now. Let me do my job."

Galvanized by this one, slim hope, Ashlynn is scrambling to her feet and physically *shoving* at Emmon, no matter how ridiculous the image or the attempt. "Get out! Now - move!" she snaps, as desperately as she had just called them all in.

"Your *job* is supposed to be Surrector of Fastheld, and last time I checked, that meant chasing down the Shadow," Emmon growls, his face snarling into a grimace. "You talk like you *are* Shadow-Touched." He scowls at Ashlynn, brushing her hand off him before turning his attention back to Duhnen. "You better think this over, Lord Seamel. Going to be hard to explain yourself later. I can try to forget I heard anything, for Ashlynn's sake if nothing else. But if you do this ..."

Duhnen falters at that somewhat, the man yanking a gauntlet off and rubbing at his heavily sweating forehead with a leather gloved covered hand. "I know," he answers, the man suddenly seeming unsure.

For a moment, Ashlynn looks enraged enough to contemplate taking a swing at the emperor's most trusted private guard. But after two...three harsh breaths sucked through her teeth, she whines softly and abruptly collapses to her knees, hunched over as if in physical pain. "Talus..." she sobs.

Emmon looks about as unwell as Duhnen does. The other guards are even worse. "We're none of us well. But we've lost him." He gestures weakly at the body on the bed. "We've lost *him*, but if you do something drastic - you may still fail, and in doing so, you'll tear this realm apart. Let him go, and we can maybe hold things together. He has an heir. His brother is alive too, so we have a Regent in waiting."

"My children," Duhnen moans to himself, closing his eyes tightly. They'd be forefit as well, should his actions bring about the worse. He looks over to Talus, staring impotently as he rubs at his forehead.

Another sob, softly keening, before Ashlynn sucks in a sharp breath and then husks without lifting her head, voice ragged, "I hate this place. Go away. All of you. Duhnen, get them out. And if your family isn't infected already, send them away. Leave us alone." There is no mistaking that the 'us' refers only to herself and the departed Talus.

Emmon nods slowly, then motions for the other guards to do as she says. They step out first, leaving Emmon stand in the doorway and look back toward Duhnen and Ashlynn. "I'm sorry," is all he manages, before coughing into his fist and moving outside.

Only once has he felt so helpless, when his sister was taken from him. And it seems to be eating the Surrector up. He groans quietly in a mix of frustration and from his sickness, turning to retrieve his discarded gauntlet.

Ashlynn laboriously pushes herself back to her feet, facing none of them, shuffling toward the bed as if her entire body ached even though she is the healthiest of the lot at the moment, and then simply collapsing across the mattress. Across the emperor's body. Completely silent.

Duhnen gives a last look to Talus and Ashlynn, the man's face twisting with emotion, before he turns about to tromp out of the room hurriedly, closing the door quietly behind him.

Return to Season 4 (2006)

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