Ashari dwelled in her gilded world of silken curtains and perfumed nights, looking at the stars in the black sky, watching them fall in trails of fire while she breathed dreaming smoke and brooded on her future. She walked the halls surrounded by her coterie of followers and sycophants by daylight, but when the red sun set she was alone, and glad for it. The harem was a beautiful cage, but a cage nonetheless. She had not felt the bars so keenly before, but now they seemed to close in upon her.
She had been the old emperor’s favorite, and had warmed his bed on many nights, using all her powers to please him, and in return her status within the palace was assured. No other girl could compare with her, nor would she ever bear the master a child. She was a perfect plaything, for her race were durable and long-lived, gifted in ways no human could match. She did not fear that age would steal her beauty.
But now the emperor was dead, and she felt a coldness in the air. Kurux was a new element, and thus far she had not been able to charm him as she had hoped to. He had not sent for her, nor for any of the women kept here for his pleasure. She had called to him with her dreams, as she was able to do, but he had not come. At court she wore her finery, all her jewels and silks, and paraded herself with her coppery flesh showing all she had to offer. She polished her horns and her hooves, painted her face, but nothing seemed to attract his eye.
Already some of the other lords of the court had made polite overtures, and she knew it was an accepted thing for past favorites to leave the harem and become concubines of lesser nobles, but she bristled at the prospect. She had enjoyed a place of prominence no other could match, and now it was gone, and she bitterly refused to simply relinquish it.
Only now she had done something unforgivable. Now, in a fit of anger at Kurux, she had freed his war-prize, the barbarian Shath, and she feared he would discover she had done it. She had watched as he sent guards pouring into the catacombs, seeking some sign of the escaped prisoner, and she had to wonder if someone had seen her that night, if someone would whisper her name.
She would not cower. She was a daughter of the Shedim, a race now almost extinguished, but who had once ruled their great southern empire with fire and blood. She had courage and strength no human could guess, and powers they only dreamed of. She would not be afraid.