Throne Room (Fastheld Keep)
- The high ceilings of this gray stone chamber are supported by rows of massive columns along an aisle that features a purple carpet that extends from the arched entrance to the Emperor's throne room and ends at the first step of the dais that holds the gleaming majesty of the Imperial throne - a chair of gold, armrests encrusted in jewels, back and seat cushioned with stuffed pillows covered with crimson velvet.
- Torches flicker in stanchions attached to the columns. The fluttering wings and twitter of birds can occasionally be heard in the shadows overhead, where the fowl have nested after coming into the estate through one of the balconies or the courtyard.
- The seal of Fastheld - a crown within a dark, unbroken circle - is on the tapestry that hangs behind and above the throne of Talus Kahar.
The Emperor of Fastheld sits upon the throne at the heart of the cavernous torch-lit chamber, the light of the moons outside shining through slits high in the eastern stone wall. The moonlight gleams along with flickering firelight off the gold crown encircling his head, weighing down the shoulder-length brown hair. His Imperial guards - Emmon among them - are diminished in number tonight, and stand out in the open, where they may be seen.
Ashlynn, acting as court scribe this night, is seated within easy ear-shot of the emperor, all of the implements necessary for her function close at hand.
Faeyd walks slowly, proudly across the floor of the throne room, his boots whispering softly against the carpet with each step. His lips whisper something soft to the herald, who looks oddly at the man, but shakes his head. "Your majesty, Faeyd of...the Luminary...wishes your presence.", he says. The white-blonde man merely nods his head, his eyebrows raising and lowering poignantly.
Emperor Talus Kahar XIV, ruler of Fastheld, turns his attention first to the herald and then to the fair-haired stranger in the burgundy cloak. He quietly appraises Faeyd, brow knitting a little as he ponders through the silence. Emmon and the other guards are clearly uneasy at the presence of the legendary Shadow-Touched mage, but they stay their hands and do not move from their positions off to the left of the Emperor. "Approach," is the word finally uttered to initiate the meeting.
Ashlynn remains silent and composed, her only movement to turn and watch the man's approach fixedly, expression distant.
A smirk slides lazily across Faeyd's face, and his feet begin the journey from herald to Emperor. His steps play counterpoint to his lackadasical demeanor, as they're almost militaristic in their preciseness. He turns a bit as he spies Ashlynn, giving her what might be a conspiratorial wink before proceeding on to stand before the throne, his cloak fluttering behind him. It rustles to a halt as he pauses, tilting his head up to regard the head of Fastheld's political power. "Greetings.", the man says smoothly, apparently having forgotten to kneel.
An arched brow is all Talus Kahar offers as a response to the wizard's impudence of not kneeling before the throne. It doesn't go unnoticed among the guards - or the suddenly gasping herald - either. But despite the silent disapproval, those looking to the Emperor would see that he has no real desire to stand on protocol tonight, when he has already thrown it to the wind by arranging this meeting to begin with. "Greetings," he says, nodding to Faeyd. He gestures around the room. "I trust this meets with your specifications."
Ashlynn's brow arches fractionally at the over-familiar wink before she releases a soft exhale that doesn't quite border upon a snort. Of Faeyd's insolence, she gives no reaction at all; apparently, a behavior that is not only unsurprising, but most likely expected of him.
Faeyd gives a very slight nod, leaving his gray-green eyes fixed on Talus. His smirk turns to a genuine smile for a moment. "I assure you, I wouldn't have entered if it did not. But I thank you nonetheless." His right thumb slides softly over his index finger's knuckle, pulling at it softly until it releases a light cracking noise. His body relaxes from its military stance, and his eyes narrow to size up the man before him. "So. How did I obtain the pleasure of standing before the great and mighty Talus Kahar the fourteenth?"
"Opportunity," the Emperor replies. He pushes himself to a standing position using the armrests of the throne, then descends from the dais to stand before the mage rather than the traditional looming-above-in-the-big-chair approach. His fingers lace together behind his back. "How much do you know about the Wildlings, Faeyd?"
Running his tongue slowly across his top teeth, the magi straightens slightly, and his eyes flick up towards the ceiling for a moment. "Ah, this is about the man in Wedgecrest, then?", he says slickly. "I heard about that. Very interesting implications...." He breaks into a smile once more. "I suppose you could say I know more than your cousin. But that's not saying much, is it?" His teeth glimmer sharply in the moonlight.
Talus Kahar stares flatly at Faeyd, not rising to the bait about his kin. "I sought this meeting at great personal risk. You attend at great personal risk. This interaction is virtually unprecedented. The sooner we get through this, the sooner we can move on to whatever comes next." He starts to pace, walking slowly around Faeyd. As he walks, he glances toward Ashlynn, and then he resumes his conversation with the wizard. "Information has come to light about the Wildlings and their abilities. Abilities that threaten my people." He stops, now standing to Faeyd's left. "Abilities that threaten *your* people."
Ashlynn's steady gaze meets the emperor's in that brief moment, and then drops as he passes, examining a pen and absently reaching out to test the nib's sharpness as she listens.
The wizard's eyes follow the Emperor as he paces, his hands lying restfully at his sides. "The ability to reason and speak must have been with the creatures for centuries. How else would they have been able to forge such an unholy alliance with one Goram Zahir?" He turns his head to the side to match his eyes. "Or do you speak of other abilities?"
"They communicate with each other, using their minds, if the witnesses in Wedgecrest are to be believed," Talus replies.
Her writing tools arranged to her satisfaction, Ashlynn eventually returns her gaze to the pair, reassuming her silent vigil.
Faeyd narrows his eyes until they are mere black slits, his face growing slightly more somber. His shoulders shift, and the dried blood-colored cloak rustles impatiently around him. "Ah yes. The telepathy." He speaks the word like it is of a foreign tongue, sharply and with a hint of cockiness. "I wasn't entirely sure you'd pick up on that. I admit to having known little of it before that incident, either. Your Church has always marked them as Shadowed. Your own blood is marked with one of their curses. Why would they not possess other magic?"
Well. That certainly gets under the Emperor's skin - literally. His jaw clenches and he leans closer to the mage, whispering, "You would do well to remember that *my* blood is not at issue here, wizard." He draws back, staring darkly at Faeyd as he raises his voice. "I don't care why they would or wouldn't possess other magic. All I care about right now is finding out who or what this 'She' is that they are so bloody desperate to find but appear utterly incapable of competently describing." He jabs a finger toward Faeyd. "Surely, someone among your followers can read their thoughts. If they can read their thoughts, then it stands to reason that the mage could visualize and explain who 'She' is and where we might find 'her.'"
Ashlynn's head dips slightly as the discussion grows heated, her eyes shadowed by hair and lashes as she regards the two men, expression far too studiously blank to be of unconscious manufacture.
Eyes narrowing, Faeyd's form begins to take on a deeper and deeper shade of violet, and his form shifts, getting shorter and smaller as he glows for about two seconds. As the violet fades away once more, there stands a woman in her late thirties with deep brown hair, light blue eyes, angled cheekbones, and a thin nose. She is dressed in a gray velvet dress. She smoothes a ruffle in it as she looks up at the Emperor. "That is hardly a necessary tone, Talus.", she says in a demanding alto. "Why exactly do I need you in this affair at all, then? If it is as easy as you seem to paint it, why shouldn't I just go find out who 'She' is, and keep the knowledge for my own purposes?"
Talus Kahar pales, taking a step back as his mouth falls open. His eyes grow wide and he puts out a hand to brace himself against one of the carved stone columns supporting the vaulted roof overhead. He shakes his head, looks down at the floor, closes his eyes, and then opens them again as he raises his attention back to the figure before him. At first, his face seems softened, almost adoring, but then the blood starts returning to his face and his mouth etches into a grimace as he shouts: "Do not use her memory!" He's fairly trembling with anger at this point, but he struggles to regain control of his temper, modulating his voice enough so that it is conversational if mildly shaky when he says, "You came here to talk to me. Talk. No trickery. I held up my end, wizard. Do not make me regret it."
Ashlynn stiffens sharply as the Shadow Touched begins to change, staring without bothering to hide her extra scrutiny. Once his form has stabilized into the woman's, she glances quickly toward Talus for his reaction - and once it comes, there is the slightest wince, her jaw tightening in sympathetic anger and pain before she is narrowing her eyes upon the mage once again.
Erista tilts her head to one side, seeming to enjoy the Emperor's trembling, if her wry smile is of any indication. She raises her eyebrows. "You always were demanding.", she says simply. It isn't long before she begins to shift purple once more, and over the course of seconds, she shifts back into the burgundy-cloaked form of before. "So be it." He steeples his fingers, looking amusedly towards Talus. "What will I receive if I do decide to help you?", he asks. "What will you do for me?"
Talus Kahar smooths the front of his tunic as he continues to calm down - significantly aided by Faeyd's compliance to shift back into his normal form. Or, at least, the form taken initially for the meeting. "You may choose one among your number, gifted with the ability to hear the minds of the Wildlings, to work in cooperation with the Crown to gain the information we need about the target of their search. That individual, once the mission is accomplished, will be granted Imperial amnesty, provided a wagon, horse and supplies, then granted safe passage to a life in exile beyond the Aegis." He gestures toward Ashlynn. "The Imperial scribe will provide these terms in writing."
Ashlynn picks up a pen upon the emperor's prompting, dipping it in ink and holding it poised above the paper in preparation to scribing the terms as dictated upon Faeyd's agreement.
"They help you betray the Wildling's thoughts, and then you'd send them out alone amidst the scaled ones? How....very generous of you.", the wizard says in mock demurity. "Why not just plunge the sword in yourself and save your coffers the trouble of sparing the horse and wagon? I mean, truly, Talus. And what about my loss? I lose a valuable member in exchange for doing you such a valuable service." His head shakes. "Truly, you can do better."
Talus Kahar lifts his chin, studying Faeyd for a few moments before he says, "I risk the forfeiture of my own life by making any kind of amnesty offer to you at all, Faeyd. Consider that as a measure of just how urgent I consider our mutual need. I offer you nothing less than Emperor Talus Kahar I offered the wizards who raised the Aegis. Surely you are no less wise than them. Surely you see that to refuse this agreement at the risk of what might become of *all* of us would be tantamount to condemning your people to death." His jaw tightens. "Faeyd, the Wildlings aren't going to stop searching. And they're going to keep killing people until they find whatever it is they want." He tilts his head. "And what they want may not be a person or any living thing. It might be an artifact that would give the Wildlings power to destroy all of us. So, think again on my offer."
Ashlynn's gaze falls to the blank parchment before her as the terms are haggled over, though there is no doubt she is still listening intently from her stillness and the ink left drying on the pen's tip, unattended to.
Faeyd shakes his head, his features tightening in seeming irritation. "There is a difference between doing this task, and doing this task *for you*, Talus. I could still do this and make a bargain with the monsters myself for this 'she'. Why should I want to save a group of people who attempt to kill me and mine? Why should I be noble when your kind hunt my kind down in the streets?" His gray-green eyes focus deeply on the blue of Talus'. "Because you're going to grant me a favor. I don't need your exile or your amnesty. In exchange for my services, I'm going to ask you for something sometime in the future, when this has all been laid to rest, and you are going to grant my boon. If this task is of such utmost importance, then surely you can sacrifice a little more in the future in the name of saving Fastheld now?" He raises an eyebrow, smiling softly.
The Emperor's gaze hardens and his eyes take on more of a flinty cast in the flame-licked shadows as he stares at the wizard. Not even a blink as he replies: "If you refuse, then Ashlynn will prepare multiple copies of a document stating the amnesty offer to *any* Shadow-Touched person willing to accept it. It will state that we approached you first, and that instead of acting in the interest of the greater realm, and thus potentially raising the stature of you and your kind at least incrementally in the eyes of the untainted, you chose to act selfishly, and thus perpetuate and justify the disdain in which you and your tainted ilk have been held for six centuries. This is the *only* boon I am prepared to offer, Faeyd: A chance for you to appear the hero, and a chance for one of your people to go free without living their lives hunted by the Church. It is *your* choice. I will not be beholden in any way beyond this. Am I clear?"
Ashlynn blinks at the choice now offered by Talus Kahar, and she looks up to catch Faeyd's response, her own gaze bordering upon a morbid curiosity as to how the stand-off will eventually end.
Faeyd matches Talus' stare for a moment and grits his teeth, his cool seemingly gone at a moment's notice. His eyes widen and harden, and a long, slow breath is exhaled through his nose. "We will see how far this relationship goes, then.", he says tersely through his teeth. "We will take on this quest on behalf of your ungrateful, murderous citizens."
Talus Kahar nods curtly, any sense of menace draining from him now like rain off an angled rooftop. Sincerely, he replies, "Perhaps if we succeed, you will find that the people are at least a little grateful." A taut smile, then, "You may have this person you choose contact Ashlynn when you have made your selection. She will provide them with a document that stipulates their nature, but it will bear my seal and my authority ensuring that they be unharmed. Anyone who harms your emissary without proper cause will do so at the forfeiture of their own life."
And, after a dip to refresh the ink, the tip is finally pressed to parchment and the soft scratches of writing in an expert hand begins to fill the spaces in between spoken words. Ashlynn's eyes flick up once as her name is mentioned, dipping her head in acknowledgement, before she returns her gaze to the terms she is meticulously penning out.
"They will do so as soon as it is feasable.", Faeyd confirms darkly, still gritting his teeth. "And any who harm my people will forfeit their lives anyways. But you will not need to worry about 'proper cause'. I train my people well." He slips his right thumb over his middle finger knuckle, cracking it softly.
Talus Kahar nods, starts turning to walk in Ashlynn's direction, but then he stops. "Oh, Faeyd, by the way..." He turns to regard the wizard with a wry smile. "Whether it was a bluff or not, I've instructed my guards to randomly stab shadows in the throne room any time I'm present. I recommend you refrain from eavesdropping here without an invitation."
Faeyd snickers softly, winking to the Emperor. "I assure you, I won't leave a shadow.", he says smoothly. "Good eve." And with that, the magi begins his trek towards the herald, and out of the throne room.
Ashlynn fills in the last stroke on the draft, eyeing it briefly before scattering sand across its surface to soak up the excess ink. As Talus approaches, she hmphs softly at the last bandy of words between the two men before tamping off the sand, slipping the top sheet off and extending it toward the emperor.
Talus Kahar concludes his closure of the distance between himself and Ashlynn, accepting the document and holding it under the torchlight so he can peruse it. After he completes the reading, he nods, handing it back to the courier. "Excellent." He smiles, then says, "Thank you for your help in arranging this, Ashlynn. You were right about him. Rather talky and fond of his own banter, but ultimately reasonable."
Ashlynn stands with a bow of her head at his approval before his latter comments draw a wry chuckle from her. "I only wish that I can say he is eager to obey your every command and have it still remain true. And I am ever at your service, Your Majesty," she says with a return smile.
"Come, then," the Emperor says, starting to walk toward the Rulers' Passage. "I must tell you of another letter that I'd like delivered to my brother."
Ashlynn dips her head in acquiescence, capping the ink well and stowing the pen before striding quickly after him.