A perfect blue sky marked the start of a new day in the Imperium Draconis, the Dragon Empire. The massive empire’s territory stretched far and wide for thousands of miles, from the rocky cliffs and warm beaches of the western coast of Alderia, to the easternmost portions of the empire, covered in forests and mountains, surrounded on all sides by independent human kingdoms. From the far frozen north inhabited only by giants, beasts and the northern tribes, far down to do endless sandy hills of the and scorching plains of the howling desert. It was a vast territory, and one ruled efficiently, and at times ruthlessly, by one man.
Emperor Justinian Dreki.
The emperor was the first born son and sole inheritor to the Noble family Dreki, a bloodline that could trace its roots back to that of the dragon’s, if their claims were to be believed. As to the logistics involved in intermixing human blood with dragon blood, nobody truly knows, only that the Dreki where indeed something less than human. All members of the noble family, tracing back for centuries had a very distinct mark.
In place of normal pupils, all descendents of the Dreki bloodline had the same eyes. Golden orbs like fire, molten and seemingly alive in their fury, with onyx slits blacker than the darkest nights splitting them down their centers like some terrible chasm, and endless void of nothing surrounded by fire. The eyes of a dragon.
Emperor Justinian had been a young man once, strong, his presence equal parts awe-inspiring and terrifying, but his days of glorious combat were long gone. Where once had been a proud warrior stood a wizened man, brown hair having faded to grey and now to white, his muscles atrophied beyond practical use. Yet what had not been lost to time, in all 256 years of his existence, was the feverous fire with which his eyes burned. Even know, as he gazed across his city, across the rolling waves of rooftops, down the dizzying maze-like appearance of the hundreds, no, thousands of streets that comprised Ur-Droman-Alfim, gazing at the majesty of the Turrus Magus.
Now mankind has accomplished many things in their short time on Alderia; they tamed the horse, they invented the wheel, they bound magic to their will, they chopped forests and built cities and roads and conquered the land, but of all their grand accomplishments, the endless spire of the Turrus Magus was the grandest of them all. The tower was made of pure enchanted porcelain, engraved with golden runes of power, some flowing freely as if water running down the towers sides, while others still where jagged, intense and powerful with no grace, no strategy, simple runes created for a simple purpose. In the early dawn light the tower lit up like a beacon, it’s runes bathing the city in a golden light that put even the still rising sun to shame.
Without a doubt, man had accomplished no greater feet than an enchanted spire that could outshine the sun itself.
It was in this early morning glow, with blue sky, the rising sun and the soft enchanted glow of the Turrus Magus, that Emperor Justinian Dreki found himself admiring all that he ruled, not for the first time thanking whatever god may have been listening to him. He stood with his arms leaning on the molded silver railing of one of the imperial palaces many balconies, surrounded only by the early sounds of life echoing from the city below.
It was then that his quiet was shattered as the oak door behind him opened, a legionary marching onto the silent balcony, under the watchful eyes of two royal guards.
The legionary was adorned in the same style as most others, covered from neck to toe in steel and padded cloth and leather, the front of his neck was covered in a jointed gorget that offered sufficient protection from any glancing blows aimed at the throat, while still allowing enough movement to maintain situational awareness on a battlefield. His body was encased completely in an singular steel cuirass, with an extended separate plate hanging down and covering his crotch area. Sleek, angled pauldrons adorned his shoulders, meant to deflect blows rather than stop them, while also providing a minimum of impedance to a legionaries movements. Down arms was a layer of cured and hardened leather, riveted together with steel studs, covered by steel gauntlets that protruded a round plate towards the soldier, elevating off his body and curving outwards, providing a barrier for the elbow crease that did not impede the use of the elbow. The elbow itself had an additional plate mounted to it, small but thick, steeply angled to ease in the deflection of blows. Running down his legs was a set of plated greaves, with much the same design as the gauntlets, a small yet thick and steeply angled plate over his knees, and a protruding plate extending outwards and over the back of the knee. The ensemble was completed with shin guards and heavy plate boots weighted and reinforced at the tips to both provide additional protection, and lend an additional strength to kicking attacks, with protruding plates covering the ankles.
It was a suit of armour fit for the most elite of knights in other kingdoms, a tested and perfected design created by the Empires artificers, and yet, the countless legions of the Empire all had access to this armour, a testament to their wealth and industry.
The Royal guards were adorned in a similar armour set, the only differences being that their own was comprised of enchanted runic plate, flowing symbols of an eldritch language pulsed with their every movement, and that they still had blades sheathed at their sides with their full-plate helms resting atop their hilts. No visitor to the Imperial Palace could were a full plate helm, or draw weapons, and the guards were mandated to not cover their faces unless faced with an intruder.
The legionary who had approached Emperor Justinian gave a crisp salute, and simply waited as the emperor slowly turned to face him. Justinian had been a great warrior, and later a general, long before he had become a politician. He did not abide by the silly tradition of kneeling, much preferring his subject to salute if they had to show some respect, and preferring they simply got to the point and didn’t waste his or their own time with meaningless posturing and inane drivel.
“Legionary Marcus of the thirteenth imperial legion, my liege!” Came the introduction, the man’s voice clear and loud, as he continued on with his message.
“The legion has arrived at Fort Brast, and have finished conducting their investigation. I’m to be their telepathic medium, i’ll relay all the information I can see, and everything i’m told about the situation. We begin by your command, my lord.”
Emperor Justinian nodded, and legionary Marcus proceeded to lower his salute and close his eyes, connecting his vision to that of a mind mage attached to the thirteenth legion currently on site at Fort Brast, where an imperial spy had claimed King Bran was to be staying for a short while.
“There’s… there’s bodies everywhere. By the gods…” began Marcus, his pallor dropping to a near white tone, as he took a deep breath and composed himself. “Captain Tarsus claims every man is dead, they’re all… there’s heads cut off, arms and legs severed, blades slit… everyone had been butchered. What…” Once again Marcus stopped. His breath was coming in fast and haggard now, as a weak telepath his main purpose was to stay behind in cities and relay information gathered by the legion, essentially acting as a phone that could not makes calls, only receive them. Because of this, he had never been exposed to the true brutalities of war, and was rapidly losing his composure.
A voice spoke up then, it was neither quiet nor silent, it was a simple voice, older and mature with time. It spoke neither too slow nor too fast, and each syllable was enunciated to perfection.
“Enough, legionary Marcus. I do not care for the details of the guards. I only wish to know whether King Bran and his magus are confirmed dead.” Said Emperor Justinian.
Marcus took a single breath, composed himself, and nodded, relaying the message to the mind mage he had been connected to, and received the answer. “King Bran was found in his bedchamber, throat slit, no sign of a struggle. The magus’ body is nowhere to be find, my lord, it appears he escape, but rangers have been sent out to track him down.”
Justinian nodded, once, seemingly satisfied with the answer, and dismissed marcus from his presence, turning back to the balcony railing and leaning on it once again, watching as the sun crept higher into the sky and the Turrus Magus’ light finally began to be outshone. He stood this way for only a minute, perhaps a bit less, already knowing what would happen next, what would show up next.
It was watching, he knew it, for it was always watching when a report was made, and it always let him know.
“My my, it seems i’m famous, aren’t I?” came the voice from behind him, and he as he turned he saw that plain, unremarkable face, and suppressed a shudder.
“Linus.” Greeted Emperor Justinian, opting to simply wait and see what the thing would do.
“Tch, well, with a greeting like that i’m beginning to think you don’t like me very much Justinian. Oh well, I suppose I can’t have everything, now can I?” As Linus spoke, he began to slowly circle around the emperor, moving behind him and to the spot at the balcony that Justinian had just occupied as he remarked “It really is pretty out here. Especially love that Turrus you guys built, fun little thing, isn’t it? I could just get lost in all those runes for days on end and still not finish solving them all.” He sighed then, a dramatic, over exaggerated sigh, before finishing his circle and turning to face the Emperor again.
“Well, I suppose it’s time for some business, old man. I did what you asked, now it’s your turn. I expect my reward within the week.” Lunis said, a small, pleasant smile now resting on his face.
“Of course, Linus. On the matter of business, there is another task I would like your assistance with. Of course, you will be rewarded quite handsomely if you accept. A small matter has arisen in Tal’Amin-”
Justinian’s speech was then cut short as Linus said “Yes, yes, a street went missing, Titiana still hasn’t made any progress, it’s all a wonderful little mystery. I’ll be more than happy to deal with it for you, all you have to do is pay up. Now, if that’s all i’ll be taking my leave now.”
“Wait, there’s one more thing,” Said Emperor Justinian, his impassive face breaking into something that could be best described as curiosity. “The magus assigned to King Bran, he wasn’t found at the fort, but you aren’t one to leave witnesses. Where is he?”
At this, Linus’ eyes almost seemed to sparkle, the black pupils dilating as his plastered smile stretched unnaturally across his face, but it never reached his eyes.
“Oh, him. Ah, he caused quite a bit of trouble, you see. Seems he had been expecting someone, so I figured, maybe he would talk if a brought him to you. I’m sure you’ll find the little gift I left for you somewhere in the palace. Now then, i’m afraid i’ll be taking my leave know. After all, Tel’Amin is quite far, there’s no telling what horrible depravities could be taking place there as we speak.”
And with that, Linus walked around Emperor Justinian, over the railing, and disappeared from sight, yet even his plummmet could not match the sinking feeling left in Justinian’s stomach as he walked back inside his palace, approaching his room and turning the golden handle to swing open the thick enchanted mahogany door, paying no heed to the pair of royal guards that flanked either side of the entrance.
And surely enough, sprawled out on his bed, entirely nude, was a struggling man bound with his arms above his head and tied to the headpost, legs spread out tied to the ends of the large bed, and resting atop him was a glistening human heart, with blood running down the screaming magus’ sides and drenching into the opulent quilts if the emperor’s bed. On that heart were carved the words
“To: Emperor Justinian Dreki
“Gods save us all,” Thought Emperor Justinian as he stared at the twisted site before him, even as his guards rushed in screaming and ushering him from his bedchamber, “I’ve created a monster, and i’m running out of time”