Alexel Trelidor stood in the Sunfall palace, gazing down at the chancellor's bloody corpse.
Few things in the world were more satisfying than taking a life—to release a surge of raw power without restraint or regret.
He preferred victims who fought back, but Brighton was every bit the politician—all talk and little martial skill. He hadn't begged for mercy either. Instead, he'd sat patiently behind his desk, trying to convince Alexel how badly they needed him. He'd claimed that was the only way to keep the humans from rebelling.
Let them try.
Six months had passed since the Etherfall. Alexel and his army had spent most of that time marching northwest and besieging the capital. Sunfall was a well-fortified city surrounded by rough oceans and high mountains. Their cannons and riflemen made open assaults especially difficult for most invaders.
No matter. He’d already conquered this city once, twenty years ago. Back then, the pawns couldn’t see their master’s hand, and they were just as helpless to prevent his arrival today.
Alexel stepped up to the tall window and examined his new home. A thousand domes and spires shone golden against the evening sun. A forest of stone, steel, and glass, with more structures than a hundred other cities combined.
Train tracks ran between the buildings on elevated rails high above the roads. Pipes protruded from the tallest buildings where waterfalls had once flowed like fifty-story fountains.
Of course, the water flowed no longer, nor did trains run along those iron lines. This place had been wasted among humans. Without Etherite or sigilcrafting, it might as well have been a wasteland. Like a Codex, it was a mere shadow of its former self.
That would change soon enough.
Alexel would lead this world into a new age of glory. He'd seen it in his dreams. A decade from now, he would rule all of Aeondom. History would remember him as they remembered the Archaeons.
Even when his mortal life ended, it would be his choice. His power would only grow as he ascended to Eternity and tested himself in that immortal realm.
He was still staring out the window when he felt a familiar presence behind him. He looked into the polished glass and saw no reflection but his own. Even so, his senses wouldn't betray him.
Alexel drew in a breath and glanced over his shoulder. "My old master. Still looming in the shadows as you always have."
Lyraina Trelian stepped forward into the orange glow of the setting sun. She wore a blue hooded cloak with strands of red hair framing her pale face.
"And here you stand, my old apprentice, basking in your own power." She shook her head. "Have you fallen so far as to forget everything I taught you? Without me, you would still be nothing. A lost and broken man wandering the world without ambition. I should have left you that way."
"And you'd be dead without me," Alexel said. "What matters is where we are today. I rule two continents and wield more power than any living Aeon. As for you ... I'll give you the same choice I gave the others. You can join me, or you can perish."
Lyraina gave a humorless chuckle. "Perhaps it's you who shall perish." She turned to meet his eyes. "Mastery over others comes at the expense of one's self. That's why you stand here, filled with delusions, meddling with ancient powers beyond your control."
How much did she know? Not as much as she pretended to, most likely.
Lyraina's footsteps echoed off the marble floor as she stepped toward the desk. "You would have been wiser to keep this one alive. His last words were more than desperate pleas."
He turned to see her standing over the late Chancellor Brighton. Had she really been listening for that long?
Alexel relaxed his face, betraying no surprise. "You think I'm underestimating the humans."
"They may be humans today," Lyraina said. "But they've spent years in this very palace, shifting through centuries of secrets. If you push them too hard, they will wed that knowledge to raw power. What happens then, when they learn where Aeons really come from?"
"It won't be enough."
"Perhaps not," Lyraina said. "But neither will your power protect you forever. You started this journey calm and patient. I was once proud to call you my apprentice. I wanted to prove to the world that a Palatine could be a true and noble leader."
"I did become a leader. Just not the one you asked for."
"And then you killed my daughter," Lyraina's voice dropped to a dark whisper, and she bit off each word as she spoke. "You stuck a sword in her spine and threw her off a tower. You made a promise to me, and you broke it. Only fitting that I break you in return."
"So you've come seeking vengeance, then?" No doubt Lyraina had come with tricks. But for all her knowledge, she had only been an Ethermancer for six months. Meanwhile, he'd become even more powerful during their time apart.
If it was a fight she wanted, Alexel would give her that. He'd learned much from this woman, but she had nothing left to offer him.
The silence stretched between them for several heartbeats before Lyraina spoke again. "This battle isn't mine to fight. But I promise you, Alexel of Clan Trelidor, the world will rise against you. Your empire will burn, and the heirs of Revera will bring you to justice."