Shath sat on the ember throne and brooded on his fate, and the war that was not yet over. The great hall was silent, for his barbarian warriors were still out in the city, gathering their dead and slaying the last of their enemies. It would be days before they had hunted out the last remnants of the legions and piled their heads into great towers. In time they would decorate the walls of the city with the skulls as a reminder to all who would think to set themselves against the new emperor.
He looked up as a shadow flitted high in the towering columns, and he watched with pleasure as Ellai flew on her delicate wings among the great pillars, gliding with grace and a lightness that made her seem weightless. Her silken robes and veil billowed like colored fire in her wake, as light as she, and then she spiraled down, easy as a fallen leaf, and touched the floor with no more sound than a breath.
She came to him and he held out his hand, embraced her when she came close. Shath had never sired a child of his own kind, and he doubted he ever would. But this small child of the wilderness was as beloved to him as a child of his own blood.
“The battle is done,” she said in her small voice, relieved and weary. “I hope you shall never again have to preside over such destruction.”
“As do I,” he said. “In my youth I sought a great battle, a battle that all men would tell tales of and bow their heads in reverence at the carnage and the terror of it. Now I have fought such a battle, and I will be content if I never see one to equal it.”
“And yet you are not content. I can feel that within you,” she said. She touched his face, her small hand on his rough-hewn cheek.
“Kurux escaped me, at the end,” he said. “The power that sustained him, that rose him up, took him away at the end, and I cannot allow that to endure.”
“No,” she said. “No you cannot.”
“Can you tell me where he is? Help me, as you have so many times. Guide me.” He held her hand. “I could not have reached this throne without you.”
“You could have taken a throne,” she said. “But I would have you be a great emperor, not simply another murderous tyrant. I would have you become wise, now that you have conquered.” She closed her eyes. “I do not need to seek him. He is known to me. I know he has gone into the darkness, and it waits there. It is a power you must destroy, yet I do not know if you can.”
“Tell me,” he said.