Prologue – Shattered Dreams

Even though the sound of his own leather-shod feet running on the cobblestone road leading to the door of the Inner Wall, mingled with his heavy breathing was the only audible thing accompanying him this Darkest Night, Ged knew deep down that the first of Nys in the year of Iono wouldn’t be his lucky day.

He silently cursed himself as he ran along, trying to ignore the violent protest of his lungs intensified by wild heartbeats that let every minute stretch into an eternity. The Gods help him, but he would never make it out of here to warn Arturiel in time. This was one grand miscalculation and he had fucked up. Completely and undeniably.

In the beginning it had been a great plan. Insane, but definitely trumping with grandeur and glory; if they got out of it alive that was. Both of them had been aware of the risks they were taking and the punishment they would be dealt if caught in this. There was no forgiving for men of their rank, Soldiers of the Watch, most faithful and most deadly of the Eye’s troops. Still, without their positions they would have never even considered the whole idea of this, trying to sneak into the Palace’s vaults to see what secret was so closely guarded behind those massive doors.

It had taken them years to get where they were now, constantly working on the perfection of a plot that a reasonably thinking person would have abandoned in a heartbeat. Two years and five months later they had finally achieved their goal: becoming two of the most trusted members of the Watch, at least as far as those of their rank were concerned, nothing more but the Eye’s Watchdogs and Hounds, but nothing less either.

And why? Yes why, the omnipresent question that had made Ged doubt his own sanity more than once. Arturiel was his friend and nobody but him was close enough to the man to empathize with the pain he must have been feeling when they took Eva and had her disappear behind those very same massive doors through which he had taken a short, but thorough glance today. His stomach still churned at the recollection of what he had seen.

It truly was the Empire’s greatest secret, the answer to the question of what was happening to those who were Taken. The secret behind the fate that was considered worse than death all through Illyria. Tonight he had seen what Cleansing meant and the Gods forgive him but he would rather the reality had never been revealed to him and just remained hidden behind strongly guarded walls. If he didn’t know, he would never have to torment himself with the question that arose from this knowledge, he just wouldn’t have to deal with it. Here and now, trapped like a rabbit as he was in the Palace that had only one way out and if he was unlucky, even this one way to ferret himself out of this would be barred to him.

A light rain had begun to fall, sprinkling the dark gray cobblestones of the never-ending maze the Palace posed to him and so many others who entered it for the first time. The significant difference was however, that he had walked the same way through it for more than two years now. The truth behind it was that his reason and rationality of thought had utterly deserted him from the first moment he realized he wouldn’t make it out of this alive. The very moment he had heard the Guard’s cry reverberate through the naked stone walls behind him, undoubtedly calling out for reinforcements that would see to sealing every wormhole leading out of the Palace. He was desperate enough to even pray to the Light itself, asking for its guidance in this Darkest Night, the beginning of the long winter months, that held such terror for him.

By now he could actually hear the cries and running footsteps closing in behind him as he was losing distance. Soon there would be arrows flying into his direction and anyone who wasn’t an utter idiot knew that the Watch shoots true, no matter the circumstances. Gods he was screwed.

He probably wouldn’t even have to worry about telling Arturiel the truth about the fate of his wife as well of anyone else the Watch had been able to lay their hands on. The Eye’s Hounds never slept and they certainly had a good nose to sniff out and strike down those unfortunate souls who were burdened with the Gift, nothing but mockery to the ears of those that soon wouldn’t be a blemish in the white coat of their empire any more. The Eye and his Watch would make sure of that as they always did.

“Our World is Safety. Safety is the Watch.

Our World is just, Justice is the Watch.

Our World is good, Goodness is the Eye.

Our lives are pure, Purity is the Light.

Let the Light protect us,

Let the Light judge us,

Let the Light guide us,

Let the Light shine on us,

Always and Forever.”

An half-mad giggle that was almost a sob escaped him as he noticed that he was unconsciously chanting the mantra that always accompanied the Eye and his rule wherever its human form, personified in Sirius Nymeron, set foot. Ged didn’t even remember when he had entered a Temple for the last time in earnest anymore. It was a long time ago and yet nobody escaped the long fingers of the Light and its municipal jurisdiction.

Thinking of this brought back thoughts not only of Sirius and how he had tried everything to hide his wife’s true abilities from the world, but his mind also involuntarily carried him to his own little family. He should have left Faele and Ares in Arturiel’s care, he knew. Even though it had been his friend’s plan, it had always been an unvoiced agreement, that Ged would take the main part of the work onto himself. It had always been that way. When they were boys and up to some mischief it had always been Arturiel who came up with the best plans to succeed in some childish coup and it was Ged who did the active part. They used to be a great team like that and still were. He should have made his friend stay behind, but inside he knew that Arturiel Valyr would never have let the chance go by to exact his revenge for the loss that had left him half the man that he used to be before they stripped him of everything he had held dear.

Gods, stop ranting, you light-forsaken hypocrite, Ged scolded himself, while allowing his mind to be distracted from its wanderings by the sensations of sheer physical pain and discomfort; by now every muscle was complaining against the dead run he had willed himself into. Taking his mind off his family, who he had left in the care of his housekeeper Dovan, he made himself push every thought of them out of his mind as he had so many times before and without false pretences hurled his weight out of the door that he knew would be closing any second.

He halfway expected to be bounced back into the Inner Wall by some invisible barricade, if not the shaft of a spear thrust into his gut, but nothing of the sort happened and for a moment Ged just halted in his gait, his eyes frantically darting about in this night that did honor to her name. He was just about to send a prayer of thanks to Nys of the Shadows for having favored him this time, when his eyes came to a halt and Arturiel stepped out of the shadows of the door, a small, triumphant smile on his face.

“So you made it after all”, he said in that wry tone that had been swinging with his voice constantly since that one fateful day that had sent the Watch into his townhouse to drag his wife to the Palace without shame, without mercy all in bright sunlight following her disappearance from the world.

Ged heaved a sigh and only his fear urging him on like the hairs of his neck standing on end as he spoke made him grab Arturiel by the arm, being rougher than he wanted to be, all eager to run as if every muscle in his body didn’t refuse to serve him.

“We don’t have time for this”, he said curtly, getting irritated by the manner Arturiel was looking at him as if there weren’t half a hundred guards on his heels. “We have to get away. Now. If you haven’t noticed, there are at least four thousand Soldiers all eagerness to have our hides. We need to-“

Ged froze as he became aware of another figure stepping out of the shadows, aiming the point of his sword at the back of Arturiel’s neck.

“We need to what, Soldier Maevere?”, Sirius Nymeron, the Eye himself asked with a voice as sharp as the blade that prodded Arturiel forward, his eyes darting at Ged, large with fear and the understanding of being screwed. Light, but they were fucked this time. Ged swallowed a curse.

His eyes never left Nymeron’s, even though it was hard to do so while his mind raged with the images of the horror he had just witnessed not half an hour ago.

“Maybe we need to keep our noses out of the business that is not of our concern. Was that by chance what you were going to say, Soldier Maevere?”

The Eye’s words and the realization that swung with them left Ged standing still for the longest of all moments, painfully aware of himself posing like the World’s greatest idiot with his hand caught in the mouse-trap for all town to see.

And he couldn’t care less.

That was it. They were done. No matter what happened, they already stood more than one foot in the Seven Hells. Gods.,.

“I didn’t think so.”

A cold smile that didn’t touch his eyes curled on Nymeron’s lips as the tip of his sword slowly forced Arturiel to his knees. It stung to see him like that, his plan so tremendously failed and for the moment Ged regained his voice.

“Let him be”, he said, as if those very words would make the Eye see how utterly uncalled for his humiliation of Ged’s friend was and that nothing but the urge that lies within any pure Soul would compel him to release his victim. Gods, Ged sometimes wished someone would end his delusions. Quick and painless.

Something in the Eye’s stone-gray eyes told him he wouldn’t do him the favor. Ged didn’t know what crushed his balance more: the coldness or the sudden amusement that was tinkling in his ruler’s eyes.

“Of course I will”, Nymeron exclaimed in a voice telling him that this was what he had planned all along, absolutely self-evident. “You ‘friend’ has been such a delightfully useful tool after all. Without him we would have never gotten you as easily.”

Nymeron’s cheerful words sickened him not half as much as the look in Arturiel’s eyes did. There was nothing of the guilt and shame he had seen before in them anymore but suddenly they became perfect mirrors for the Eye’s amusement, that only increased with Ged’s shock as Arturiel rose to his feet, graceful and unhindered by the blade that was no longer aimed at him.

Ged shook his head, rendered dumbstruck and still working his mind to cope with the sudden turn of events. He had been tricked all along. He had been played false by the one person that mastered this art to perfection and he wouldn’t even have suspected him in the last. Even now something inside him told him this was wrong. This was another of Nymeron’s mindgames and had nothing to do with the man who had been his friend for his entire life. The man who he would not only have trusted with his own, but with the lives of his family and everyone that he knew. Everyone that had ever even known the smallest scrap of this plot…

Realizing that tomorrow’s dawn would carry out the death warranties of everyone he knew, made Ged’s head spin. He had expected failure, but he hadn’t expected devastation. However, he had made the butcher’s bill without the Eye and the trumps he had been hiding up his arm for years.

“Gods how…”, he couldn’t take his eyes off Arturiel, now pointing the edge of his blade at his “friend” who was posing such an apparent, completely destroyed target.

“I don’t understand…”, Ged mumbled, not even being aware of Arturiel raising his sword until its tip pointed at his heart and he could almost smell death in the cold metal aiming at him, but he didn’t waver. His eyes remained unmoving, focused on Arturiel’s and everything else around it lay forgotten in the shadowy ruins of his coherent thoughts. There was nothing but the darkness of pain spreading inside him when Arturiel Valyr ran him through with one mighty thrust.

“Well, I do, you know”, Arturiel said unmoving, “I understand you just perfectly.”

There was no resistance left inside him. Not after what he had seen this Darkest Night. Not after what he had realized about the treachery of trust.

Trust…Friendship…Hope…

Until even that faded, and he just let go, drowning himself in a maelstrom of pain and finally darkness came.

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