Seventh I: Dark, Warmth, Dark
The Twenty-Eighth Day of the Ninth Moon, 872 AD.
Anaria, Western Teleytaios, Klironomea.
First there was darkness. They didn't like dreams that began like this; despite the hardships they had already overcome, they were more than willing to admit that they found themselves scared by visions of darkness. Even with their eyes completely covered they could still see normally, but this was a different kind of darkness, one of absolute nothingness. To be clear, they didn't fear the dark itself, or even what could be lurking within it, but a fear of being trapped in inky blackness for eternity, with no way out. It was a somewhat irrational fear, they knew, but it stuck with them all the same.
Then there was light, as Solaria ignited before them.
They could see Anamanesis, the planet resplendent in greens, blues, and greys, from their position astride the star at the heart of the heavens. It looked perfect. They had never stridden the cosmos before, but they imagined that if ever they did, it would look almost exactly like this.
There was something wrong here. Their blindfolded eyes could see all laid bare before him as silhouettes and outlines, but when they tried to look at the moon... there was nothing. A hole in reality, where something had been before. Seventh removed the blindfold from their eyes to better take in the situation around them, and what they saw was sickening.
Before them, in the place of the moon, was a... thing. It took the rough approximation of a human, but it was so far removed from humanity that it was hard to know what it was. It cracked open an eye and looked to Anamanesis.
The creature, the God, for that is all it could have been, had empty pits where eyes should have been. Its limbs were wiry and thin, its body little more than skin pulled taught over bone. It looked ravenous.
It moved to bite into the world, like one would an apple, and began to crush part of the planet between its jaws. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, the planet's surface gave way with a thunderous boom, and the God began to smile.
Placing bony fingers into the crack, it began to prise open the shell of the planet, until half of the world shattered into a dozen pieces, leaving the other drifting in the void.
When they gazed into the relatively intact half of the world, the Seer realised that it was not rock and water that ran throughout the world, but blood, marrow and rotting flesh.
The creature sprung forwards and began to tear at the chunks of the world, devouring them with all the reckless abandon of a feral animal. The young Seer heaved and retched, expelling the contents of their stomach which proceeded to float away in the void.
My Lord, My King, My God, protect me from thine enemies and thine evils, throw back this vision of darkest creation, I beseech thee, grant me-
"Sev? Can you hear me? Sev?"
Seventh shot awake, gripping the forearm of the prince in front of them. The prince's eyes- Prince, not King, he was very insistent on that in private, were filled with concern, and they knew their own were likely panicked. No, no, no! He can't see my eyes, not now, where is it!
"Where- where is my blindfold! Please, I just need- I just need my blindfold!"
Rhema nodded at the Seer's chest, the silk tunic coated in bile and sick. True to his word, the blindfold was within the small puddle.
"Yeah, I don't think you're gonna wanna put that on."
Upon hearing this Seventh slammed their eyes shut, a rush of anxiety building.
"Here, hang on, this should do for now."
Seventh opened an eye just enough to see Rhema take a piece of green silk from around his arm and tie it around his eyes. It fit well, almost as good as his actual blindfold, and was somewhat more comfortable.
"I did wonder why you always wore that arm-sash."
Seventh could hear the almost excited smile in Rhema's voice as he spoke.
"I know how anxious you can get without a blindfold, so I made sure that there would always be one on-hand just in case! Well, not quite on hand so much as on arm, but still!"
The knowledge that the excitable and hysterical prince cared enough to ensure they would not be so anxious caused a feeling of fondness to rise in their chest.
They quickly smothered it.
The words were filled with more emotion than they intended, a small amount of their suppressed gratitude slipping into their voice.
Rhema waved it off, seemingly content to have simply helped.
"Nah, it's nothing. I like seeing you in my colours anyway."
Seventh rolled his eyes behind the new blindfold. Rhema had the ability to suck the drama out of almost any situation, not with consolation or profound words, but with a healthy dose of casual flirting.
"Will you still be there when I hold court today?"
"I think so. I'm still a bit out of it, but it isn't for a few hours yet, yes?"
"That's right! I'll need to sort through some of the written petitions beforehand, but you can take the hours off. Rest for a while, I'll have Crowe send someone to escort you to the throneroom later."
Seventh smiled at the prince, and nodded his assent. Rhema stuck his head back in as he was leaving, and hurried out a quick sentence.
"Just a heads up, it'll probably be Ser Aenethar. Damn good knight, little bit odd. Best of luck."
Seventh blinked behind the blindfold.
Ser Aenethar? He knew that name from somewhere... from another time, another place... Aenethar... Aenethar...
Knock, knock, knock.
Three times an armoured fist hit the door, before it opened inwards to reveal the knight sent to escort them. Ser Aenethar, assuming this was him, didn't look much different from an average knight; he wasn't particularly short or tall, broad, or narrow, with neither the glamour of a famed figure or the wear of a hedge-knight. What did strike them as odd was the feeling of his soul. It was damaged, not in the usual, emotional ways that human souls were damaged, but in a strange, almost fractured way. As if it were a pot that had been smashed and reformed, and then smashed and reformed again, with more pieces missing each time. When they focused on the knight’s physical body they found that his eyes were missing something... some spark of warmth, a sign of life something that made people whole. Aenethar... I know you...
They shook their head and bowed to the knight.
"You are to escort me?"
No response came, save a single, stiff nod.
They sighed to themselves.
"Lead the way Ser, if you please?"
The man nodded stiffly once more and set off down the hall, his pace never allowing Seventh to catch up or fall behind.
He is a strange one. I suppose I can't judge.
Marshal Crowe greeted them from an adjoining hall, and the knight immediately came to a stop.
"You are attending court? His Grace was uncertain as to whether you'd attend or not."
She must have seen Seventh staring at the back of Ser Aenethar, and continued speaking.
"Ah, you have yet to be properly introduced to Ser Aenethar? He chooses not to speak most days, something to do with his patron angel. He worships the Angel of the Dead you see, and took their name for his own once he was granted his knighthood. He's a damn good sparring partner, with a damn strong grip."
She clapped the silent figure on an armoured shoulder as Seventh ruminated.
Aenethar, the Klironomean name for the Angel of the Dead. That could be where I know the name... Their brow furrowed in confusion; something was still missing... it's probably nothing.
The three came to an abrupt stop in the hall, before taking off at a sprint towards the throne room. When they arrived they found an apoplectic Patriarch before them, fist shaking in fury and spittle flying from his lips as the three made their way to Rhema's sides.
"Oh? Please, enlighten me. What is it I have done now to offend the ever-illustrious New Church?"
The patriarch actually stumbled over his words, seemingly offended that the King had the gall to feign ignorance.
"YOU VILE HELLSPAWN! YOU SPURN THE HOLY AT YOUR OWN CORONATION! YOU CONSORT WITH WOMEN AND PAGAN ADULTERERS!-"
Adulterer? I may be a 'pagan' by his standards, but adulterer? Really? Could he pick a more generic crime to accuse me of?
"-AND NOW YOU WISH TO PREVENT US FROM WAGING WAR UPON THE FAITHLESS AND THE HERETICAL!"
He took the first step up to the throne, and Ser Aenethar drew his sword. Rhema held up his left hand, his right still toying with his axe that leant against the throne, and Ser Aenethar stopped as though frozen. The priest continued up the steps until he stood nought but six paces from the King, his gaze filled with hatred and defiance. When Rhema spoke next his voice was as cold as Seventh had ever heard it in their life.
"Raise your head another step, and as your King I promise you will leave this hall without it."
The priest bellowed out another challenge, glaring at the King.
"YOU ARE NO KING OF MINE!"
Rhema wore his amusement as a smirk as he rose from his throne, moving in an unhurried manner to stand before the patriarch, further raising the priest's hackles.
"You denounce me as your King?"
The priest glared at Rhema with venom in his eyes, and he spat his words more than he spoke them.
"What is a King to a Saint?"
Seventh watched on as Rhema just smiled, and sent the preacher sprawling to the floor with the haft of his axe.
"Your Saint is far from here, little preacher. I rule in these lands. You say "What is a King to a Saint? I answer thusly: What is a Saint to a King?"
The man never even had time to get up before the axe cleaved his head from his shoulders.
Rhema moved to sit the throne once more, wordlessly. There was a muttered conversation in the room amongst the Roses, seemingly split between following their King and the New Church that they all held oh-so-dear. Princess Roma, for her part, looked mortified. The patriarch hadn't been a pleasant man, but Seventh knew him to be one of her unpleasant men. And now he was headless. Rhema flicked a hand forward dismissively, and two guards in green liveries moved the body of the preacher out of the hall. As for the head, Seventh knew already where that was going; tar, spike, crows, in that order.
Their Prince lounged on the throne, then leant forwards. From where he was stood Seventh could see the blood on his tunic, and face, transforming from a saturated crimson blotch on his chest to little more than flecks and spots up his neck and face. He gestured for the cowed herald to call forwards the next petitioner, who trembled where he stood.
"Now then-" he started, "I trust you'll be less accusatory than the last one. State your business."
"I'm an envoy from Owkrestos, if it please your Grace. King Aleksandar bid me come with all haste, beseeching you to uphold the duties your father took in securing his grace against traitors in his Kingdom."
"King Aleksandar? This sounds more like the words of his regency council to me. What does a boy of five and ten, puppeted all his life, care whether it is a council of a dozen families or one man who puppets him. Does he not think Teleytaios too busy to aid him? I may be young, envoy, but I know a fool's errand when I see one."
The envoy spluttered and bowed, trying to plead his case without offending the unstable monarch.
"A fool’s errand? Preventing House Blackwood from seizing complete and uncontested control of Owkrestos has been Teleytaian policy for decades!"
Seventh smiled fondly at Rhema as the King rolled his eyes dismissively.
"Yes, a fool’s errand. You Owkrestans never leave your forests and fens unless you need our help. Help against Triarios, a Tildan invasion, and now your own unruly vassal, Lord Aertax. Why would I risk the wrath of the most powerful man in Owkrestos? What gain would I have in supporting a foreign King, who has yet to support me, over the richest man in his realm?"
Seventh could almost smell the fear in the room as the envoy trembled, Rhema staring impassively down at him, awaiting an answer that never came. After a minute of starts and abrupt pauses, Rhema seemingly lost his patience.
"Princess, see that the envoy is given quarters befitting of his station. We shall host him here for three days, and he will plead his case without the pressure of an audience. Dismissed."
The envoy bowed and scraped, thanking the King for his sudden generosity. Seventh found themselves puzzled by the situation before them. Why was Rhema hosting the diplomat? If it weren't for the siblings' hatred of each other blocking all chance of coded phrases being made, Seventh would've guessed that 'chambers befitting his station' was a euphemism for the dungeons, but there was little to be gained from wondering about that at this time. Rhema locked eyes with them, seemingly feeling their stare, and they looked away quickly. The blood on his face should not have made him look as handsome as it did, but that probably spoke more about Seventh than it did Rhema's actual features.
My Lord, My King, My God, please let me have just a few days where I don't have to watch someone die. It's getting really old, at least spice it up somewhat?
"Your grace, your highness, I come bearing grim tidings!"
The messenger prostrated himself before the inner council, looking directly at the Princess and not the King as he did so.
Could these people at least pretend Rhema has authority here?
"Marshal Harran and his force have been scattered by a large violet force, but he reports that he leads a rearguard south and that he has taken minimal casualties."
Seventh smirked. Minimal casualties? He'd heard of Prince Lykourgos and Ser Romanos before, of how they'd annihilated two armies across three battles in the Twilight Rebellion when the prince was but a child. Something told them that, even if Marshal Harran was telling the truth, then the hammer-blow that was sure to follow would fall long before this so-called 'rearguard' made it within sixty miles of the capital.
Assuming there actually was a rearguard worth chasing down.
"Very good-" Princess Roma's voice cut above the undignified din as the councillors called for various impossible or ineffectual actions to be taken. One man even suggested they "demand the return of the bastard Prince so he may be tried and executed". They shook their head and continued to take minutes as the Princess continued,
"-though I take it there is more news?"
"Yes, your Highness. The sellsword company, Symon's Starlings, have gone over to the enemy."
She rolled her eyes at that, and motioned for the messenger to leave.
"So two-thousand peasants have gone over to my... half-brother's side. There's little more to be discussed on that front."
She stared at the messenger, who had not moved towards the door.
"Begging my pardon your Highness, but there's more news."
Seventh felt the irritation roiling off her in waves as she took a deep breath and composed herself.
"Very well. Continue."
"So it please you. I- your Grace, you- your Highness-"
"Out with it, man!"
The voice of a councillor bellowed towards the terrified messenger, who was clearly trying to find the most delicate way to word this subject.
"Aye, my lord. Your Grace, your actions taken against Patriarch Damieth seems to have incited a riot in the eastern districts of the city. The city watch was able to disperse the crowds, but not without significant bloodshed."
Roma cut her brother off mid-sentence, and even some of her own supporters in the council seemed taken aback by her blatant disregard for her brother's authority.
"Tell me the death toll."
The messenger nodded quickly, and proffered the missive on a piece of parchment from one of the watch commanders.
"Six and twenty guards, your Highness. Four and three-hundred citizens. Doubtless some were blameless and got caught up in the middle of the carnage."
"OUT. ALL OF YOU."
The councilmen and guards shuffled out of the room, and the messenger damn near sprinted to follow them. When they were gone it was only Roma, Rhema, and themselves. Roma turned to face Seventh.
"I said, GET OUT."
She stood over a full head taller than them, but they held their ground nonetheless.
"I do not answer to you. I come and go by royal decree, not yours."
"I am in charge in this city! Everyone understands that, so stop playing at being a man and accept that you're just a little boy!"
The terms 'man' and 'boy' stung, but doubtless not for the reasons she had intended.
"You are not the Queen yet. God willing, you never will be."
She snarled at them, and they turned to Rhema for support. They didn't get any.
Rhema was clearly too deep inside his own mind to pay any heed to the outside world at this time. When Roma noticed this, she smiled.
"There are no Gods, pagan. Only the saints and the angels. Guards? Come escort our young Seer back to his chambers, he's had a tiring day."
Seventh looked around frantically, trying to find an out without getting themselves into trouble. As they were roughly taken from the room, they saw Roma take out a parchment and begin drafting a document, pulling the signet ring from Rhema's finger.
"Don't worry, little Seer. I would never harm my own brother. I'm not a monster."
And then the door closed behind them.
"Seventh? Are you there?"
"Yes, your Grace."
Seventh might not have wanted to admit it, but hearing Rhema's voice again was a nice reassurance that he was alright and hadn't been harmed.
"Good. Look, if I'm being honest the last few hours have been a blur, but when the messenger told us that Harran was defeated I knew we needed to speed up our plan. Do you think you can get to her council members?"
They nodded, knowing from the tone in Rhema's voice that this wasn't the time to object to a shift in plans.
"How soon does it need to be done?"
"Today, if possible. I need to send my sister a message after she blatantly dismissed my authority. I mean, I know I'm not actually the King, I'm just warming the throne till he gets here, but she doesn't know that!"
Seventh sighed. If it was going to be today then he needed to find some nettles. Very specific nettles.
"As you say, your Grace. Anything else."
Rhema cringed at that, and made a hissing noise from between his teeth.
"Angels, I told you not to call me that, please. And uh... afterwards you'll need to leave the city. Fast. Like, really fast."
Seventh knew their expression must have been filled with rising horror.
"No, Rhema, I'm not leaving you in this viper’s nest, why should-"
"I had a dream, alright! I had that dream again, where you're crucified in the throneroom. I'm not taking any chances. You'll do this and then flee to my brother's camp. He'll know you're coming, even if you won't be with me to dreamwalk, I'll give you a signed and sealed message to get you an audience with him and then you'll stay by his side till you can come get me out of this shithole."
Seventh took off their blindfold, and looked at Rhema. He visibly softened when he saw their black eyes, and Seventh could actually feel the blue sparks dancing across them. Rhema looked at them for less than a moment, and then the softness was gone.
"Seventh, don't make me order you to leave."
The monarch took a deep breath, and cut Seventh off.
"Seventh, under royal decree I do hereby order you to commence with the next stage of our plan this instant, then leave the city to my brother's camp. I know you will not refuse this honour."
There was silence between them for ten seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Seventh spent that time trying to swallow the lump in their throat, and when their voice came out it was barely a whisper.
"Your will be done, your Grace."
They reattached the blindfold, and steeled their resolve.
"I'll do it. I don't like it, but I'll do it. Please just, promise me you'll be okay?"
Rhema sighed softly at him, and although they could see it coming Seventh still jumped at when the King gently laid a hand on their shoulder.
"You know I can't promise that, Sev. But I'll try. It is likely that, after this talk, we won't see each other for a little while."
There was silence again, neither willing to move first. Their staring contest lasted minutes, but it was Rhema who blinked first.
"I'll see you soon, that much I can promise. Good luck."
The heavy-set man, easily twice the size of the next largest person in the room, nodded stiffly at the servant, who poured out a steaming cup of the drink. He took a few appreciative sips.
"It is not often I get visitors to my quarters, and I do not believe I've ever played host for this many at once. Not that I don't appreciate it; it saves me quite a bit of work tracking all of you down."
The raven-haired woman was briefly taken aback.
"You wished to speak with us?"
The Seer nodded.
"Indeed. I had a matter of grave importance to speak of with you all, though with what's happened recently its importance has fallen by the wayside. No matter. What is it you wished to speak with me about?"
The apparent leader of the councillors, a stern, slight man, covered in scars from dozens of battles, approached.
"We know of your abilities. We would have you use them to end this rebellion."
Seventh kept as straight a face as possible. Know of his abilities? If they didn't know most of them themselves, why did this man think he knew?
They sighed softly and offered the rest of the guests some of the tea. All accepted, including the large man again, he assumed so that they would not appear rude as they asked- not ordered, asked them to help. That thought alone made them smirk. Roses, men and women who had never had to ask for anything in their lives thought their magic that valuable. Somewhere at the back of the crowd a man coughed.
More's the pity for them, I guess.
"Very well, what is it you wish for? I fear my visions of the future have become clouded as of late, and dark are my dreams, though if that is what you wish, I will call upon my visions for you?"
The leader of the dozen councillors nodded, and a man coughed again. Seventh smirked.
"If I do this, you'll do something for me in return."
"Me specifically or Her Grace's Council as a whole?"
Her Grace? Now that's a slip of the tongue if ever I've heard one.
The Seer nodded as the man finished his sentence.
"As you wish. Whatever you levy upon us, within reason, we shall see it done."
The king's servant smiled.
"Drink deep from your cups, for hearing of things yet to come can leave the mouth quite dry."
There was the sound of hurried slurping and gulping as some of the people in the room took their advice a bit too far, not that they cared. As the councillors finished their cups a woman fell into a coughing fit, the man beside her patting her back to help her clear her throat.
"I foresee a monarch, gilded in nature and in spirit. Pure of soul and beloved by those that lie beneath them. There can be no better future for the people of this land, for all those who would seek harm upon this Kingdom shall be swept away by the fury of the monarch's wroth."
He could make out a brief commotion as a man's nose began to bleed, but he was quickly shushed by his enraptured colleagues.
"A crown lies upon a brow, made of flowers cleared of thorns. Though free to fly upon the winds, it lies heavy upon the brow. I can see no brighter future than this. Without greed, without avarice, without cruelty their reign shall be, cut short only by times cruel barbs. For all the realm, this is to be our gilded future."
When they finished, they knew all were staring in silence. They broke the silence with a polite cough.
The Councillors ranged greatly in mannerism and politeness. None were outright hostile to them, at least not in person, and knew better than to refer to them incorrectly, but many still saw them as a heathen, or a daemon, or even a criminal, for their abilities.
Ser Corbray was not one of those men.
Named to the newly created position 'Master of Steel', he was the man in charge of the various Knightly orders of the land, and the functioning of their Chapterhouses. He was a stern man, but not unpleasant, not brash or rude. Even now he was talking with them, when the other Councillors made polite conversation with each other so as to avoid speaking directly to them.
Another man descended into a coughing fit.
"I must thank you again for using your abilities to assist us. I understand the tensions between King Rhema and Princess Roma have long been high, and so you were likely hesitant, but you saw past it to assist us. Thank you."
Seventh bowed his head respectfully.
"If it assists my King, I will do anything."
Ser Corbray smiled at him kindly and clapped him gently on the shoulder. A shame, he seems nice.
"That's the sort of attitude we need more of lad. You do his Grace proud. What was the task you wanted us to-"
He was briefly cut off as he began coughing, reaching for his tea to clear his throat.
"Apologies. What did you want us to do in return?"
Seventh smiled at the man with what could be called a sickly sweetness.
"Oh, don't worry about that, you've already done it."
Corbray coughed twice, and grinned.
"Well, I'll call that a job well done, and you've given us much to think on. Thank you, again."
"If I can be completely honest with you though" the man started, a joking smile on his face, "this pot of parsley tea smells awful."
"Oh no it's not parsley, it's nettle tea."
Confusion fell across the man's face, and the hand on Seventh's shoulder began to shake slightly.
"Oh? If you do not mind me asking, if it was not parsley, what nettle was it?"
Seventh took a moment to let their other senses paint a picture of the room. They could hear the coughing that racked half of the Councillors, could smell the blood from the noses of several, could practically feel their insides seizing up in rejection of their drinks.
They turned back to Ser Corbray, blood dripping from his nose, and smiled a dangerously sweet smile. They answered his question in a childishly happy voice.