She was seven years old when she found it.
A device of wonder and charm, the antique mirror was something that spoke to her, something far beyond its prosaic appearance. A royal child left to her own devices might indeed be expected to find enchantment and wonder in the simplest of things outside of her gilded cage. But this child, this young princess, she discovered something that actually –was– magic, and for her, it was something far above and beyond the simple, mundane sorcery omnipresent in the daily lives of her world’s royalty.
She’d been exploring you see, as imaginative children are wont to do. She’d been hoping to escape the tedious routine imposed and regulated by her tutors, her bodyguards, her handmaidens, and the overprotective yet paradoxically uncaring eyes of her parents. As second in line for the throne, she was not the heir apparent; that honor went to her older sister. But with the minor measure of comparative freedom such lack of expectancy a crown royal destiny carried, it gave her time to wander and amuse herself.
A curious child who set their mind to it could fine many things in the less traveled parts of the royal palace, and one late afternoon in the third month of the year, just as the spring thaw sent a warm and inviting breeze through the heights of the oldest palace towers, she stumbled upon a house of treasures. Lit only by the cold light streaming through the open tower windows from the swollen, ancient sun that hung in the sky, bloated and red, it was a place of riches unimaginable to her eyes at least; riches of wonder, novelty, and so very many questions. Such was the wealth of the royal palace where even the servants’ corridors were made of gold and jewels, that the forgotten contents of the storeroom that she found in the tower mattered little to any but her. The rest of the royal court thought little of it, if they were even aware of that particular chamber and its contents, and indeed it held things little cared about except for being historical and thus they couldn’t simply be cast away or sold.
The various quaint and foolish factions and political divisions of the world had ceased to exist over a millennia earlier. Cultures, ideologies, religions, national boundaries, and other such things had been crushed either by marriage or the sword and finally united by the Emperors and Empresses of her family line.
The objects of that earlier time were reminders of human folly, and in the modern era existed only as decaying things of a bygone age. Historians and scholars were all who really remembered them, and cared to remember them. To most people, even the royal family, they simply had no place in the world and so they remained in the palace, stuffed away in unused antechambers, forgotten in walled off cellars, and in one particular case for an overly curious princess, covered in canvas, draped in velvet, and dutifully squared away in one of the highest rooms in the oldest tower long since fallen out of use. There it sat, dutifully squared away and promptly forgotten, waiting for her.
To a child however, such curious things are worth more than gold. Each cover removed was the lid of a treasure chest thrown open, revealing a metaphorical trove of glittering gems, even if far short of gems it held only dusty antique clothing, regimental flags of long-vanished armies, standards of equally vanished kingdoms, and the trappings and tributes of a world long united, with such divisions forgotten and vanquished.
Of all of the forgotten things there, one item in particular gathered her attention, though there was nothing immediately unique about it at all. It was only a simple prosaic thing: a mirror of plate glass and silver nitrate set within a hand-carved frame of dark, smooth wood, devoid of any gilding or paint.
A golden plate fastened to the bottom of the frame contained an inscription of the year in which the Empire gained it as tribute. A number and series of letters next to it provided for a merry scavenger hunt to scurry a finger through the grand index of the log books likewise abandoned within the storeroom and their gilded, forgotten charges. In hindsight, she couldn’t say what in particular it was about the mirror that caused her to even grant it a second glance, let alone trail her fingers through the chronicle that described both it and the circumstances of its acquisition and origins.
The keen eyed might have noticed that of all the storeroom’s objects, the mirror alone was free of age and tarnish. Surrounded by an inch of dust on the floor in all directions, the mirror itself was spotless and timeless. Most importantly, it existed so in that state all without a single apparent drop of latent magic.
“Delivered as tribute by the [unreadable], hailing from their homeland, what they called ‘the place beyond the endless sea of trees and pools’. We will provide them a new home if they pledge their loyalty. The mirror is well crafted with fine filigree in gold and other metals we do not recognize upon the mirror’s backing, and the wood of the frame itself is unique. They say that they can never return home. Their language is odd and translation is difficult. They claim their homeland was destroyed – I would expect that conquered is a better word. How can a land be destroyed? Eventually the Empire will go there and absorb it as well, putting an end to such wars. One day by the grace of the Empire, the concept of refugee will be for naught within the Imperial lexicon. The mirror will be stored as dictated by the Grand Librarian of the 1st Rule along with other similar tributes from foreign lands. Glory to the Empire and may it bring light to all corners of the world.
- Xemrika, 1st Subordinate Librarian of the 1st Rule”
Ever more curious, the girl stood before the mirror admiring her reflection, twirling a finger through her hair. Her six handmaidens had prepared her coifs and curls to perfection. It wasn’t fair though she thought, glancing at a few misplaced strands that she only then noticed. Her sister had two dozen handmaidens. If she’d had so many, they would have noticed and her hair would be perfect.
“Hello my dearest.” The voice echoed in her mind as the mirror’s surface rippled oh so subtly with each gentle intonation.
Most children would scream and run, but oh no, not her. Rather than running, she frowned and stuck out her lower lip.
“I am not your dearest.” She stared at her reflection in the mirror, putting on a stern expression as she should before someone of clearly lesser station. Speaking or not, a mirror in a dusty old room was not a peer, let alone a paramour to call her its dearest. “I am a princess, and one day I may be Empress.”
“My apologies then princess.” The words were warm and friendly. “It does get so lonely here in this room. I haven’t been blessed to meet someone as beautiful, as regal, or as special as you for such a long, long time.”
So unused to a friendly voice or even anyone so much as glancing at her compared to her sister, the ice around her heart melted away. Cracking a smile, she relaxed. “Who are you mirror? What’s your name?”
“I’m your friend. Or at least I’d like to be.” From the mirror came the mental impression of a smile, genuine and welcome to a girl so used to being ignored.
Without a thought, she sat down on a floor suddenly devoid of dust. Looking up at the mirror and focused just past her own reflection, she tilted her head in curiosity. “I don’t really have any friends. But that’s not really an answer to my question. What’s your name?”
“I don’t really have what you would call a name.” The voice from beyond the mirror continued. “Mirrors you see, we reflect an image back at whoever looks into us. Whatever you see trapped and reflected within a mirror’s frame, it all has to do with the mirror’s surroundings and not at all to do with the mirror itself. So it is with my name. I’ve always been given a name, and whatever name you choose for me, I’ll answer to. You have that power if you’ll be my friend and talk with me from time to time.”
The princess smiled, even as her mind skipped the notion of naming her new friend. He was after all her friend and only hers. She was special. Her older sister wasn’t the mirror’s friend now was she?
“What sort of things would you like to talk about?” She queried with a delighted look on her face. For once in her life, she was asking someone else what they wanted. This came naturally and she never questioned why, just as much as she failed to question why a mirror would speak with her, or why an artifact sat there in the tower, abandoned and forgotten.
“Oh we can talk about most anything. I know a great many wonderful things that I can share with you and only you.” The mirror spoke and set her mind alight with a rapacious desire to have this one thing that her elder sister did not. “I can teach you anything you want” The mirror continued. “I can tell you about a great many things as I did with the last beautiful child I knew many years ago.”
She blushed, “What sort of things can we talk about?”
“I can tell you about magic.”
There in the still, quiet darkness, eyes wide and illuminated by the ghostly glow of the mirror’s surface, the princess nodded and uttered a phrase so very rare for her vocabulary, “Please.”
Three weeks passed and nearly every day the princess ascended the tower steps and spent her free hours with the mirror and her newest and only friend lurking there behind its glistening surface. She was oh so covetous of its favor and all of the wonderful stories that it could tell her. It knew so much about the Empire’s history, about the secrets that were never mentioned in the official histories, and about the ways of magic that were known only to members of the nobility.
Eventually she would be taught magic herself by her court appointed teachers. But not yet. Her teachers told her so many things, so many dismissive things, when she begged to learn magic:
“You’re still too young to properly appreciate and understand the workings of magic.”
“Maybe when you’re older.”
“Your sister is so very gifted at magic. She’s such a prodigy. When you’re older and start to learn, you should follow her example.”
Not yet. Never yet. Your sister is wonderful. Your sister is gifted. Your sister is heir to the throne. Sit in the corner and vanish please if you would.
The mirror taught her each and every thing that she asked. In that she was special. She had something that her sister did not. Eventually though, her vanity got the best of her and she felt compelled to brag of her new friend to the only person that it mattered to tell.
The salon that day brimmed with guests, with dozens of artists in attendance, each crafting portraits or sculptures of the Crown Princess who sat in room’s very center at a table resplendent with wine and sugared treats from all corners of the Empire. The elder princess seemed bored and her eyes rolled more than once as each of her tutors in turn asked her all manner of questions relating to Imperial protocol, history, and religious doctrine.
There, surrounded by the suffocating trappings of her destined station, the Crown Princess felt a hand tug ever so eagerly at the silken edge of her gown.
“I found something sister.”
Lectured day after day into being stern and imperious, devoid of a single measure of weak kindness, the Emperor’s eldest daughter turned and glanced down at her sibling. She did her best to ignore her younger sister, or at least she tried. She resented her freedom, being the younger child and thus free of the intolerable grooming for the throne that would one day be hers and hers alone. Eventually though, she deigned to glance down and humor the annoying little child looking up at her.
“What did you find?”
“I found a secret place.” The younger sister’s eyes danced with joy and an eagerness to finally demonstrate that she had something that her sibling did not.
“I’m sure that you did.” The elder princess waved a painted, polished hand dismissively. “Run along now. Can’t you see that I’m busy?”
Narrowing her eyes and frowning, the younger girl walked away, feeling the eyes and laughter of her sister and her royally appointed clique of “friends” and tutors upon her like a knife’s blade. There was no greater offense than dismissal, no greater insult than ignoring and willingly overlooking her.
If the heir to the throne had reacted with interest or even if she’d reacted with the exact opposite and casually dismissed her sister’s wonderful find while acknowledging its existence, the younger girl would have eventually told her all about it. But, ignoring her and turning back to her own court appointed tutors and “friends”, the opportunity was lost for a full accounting of the mirror’s wonder and majesty. One more molecule of stone was added to what would build into a boulder of resentment upon the younger sister’s shoulders.
As the years grew on, the princess would hint to her elder sister about what she’d found, describing it as just that: a secret place. Never once though did she describe the mirror. Never once did she describe to her sibling nor to any of her servitors, fawning courtiers, or eventually once she reached the age of maturity, those paramours she allowed to grace her bed for a night of loveless fornication, the creature in the mirror that she called her friend. She had no others that she might call her friend. She had servitors and she had family, though in truth the latter were best described as rivals and stumbling blocks to her own rise to power.
Years passed and the sisters continued to drift apart, even as the bonds of blood and Imperial peerage linked them into an orbit always bound together.
“Have you ever had a friend before?” The princess sat before the mirror upon a plush cushion, casually speaking to her dearest and only friend. She didn’t look up as she read through a great tome of archaic magic that she’d found behind a hidden panel above the lintel of a door in an old, disused portion of the palace – exactly where her friend in the mirror had told her to find it.
Just in the past year had her imperial tutors allowed her to study the rudimentary elements of magic. Unbeknownst to them of course, she’d been learning since the age of seven. Nearly every day was spent with her friend either practicing spells, learning magical theory, or in discussion of herself, her thoughts, and her world’s history above and beyond the revisionist details presented in books. Truth was power.
“Yes, I have. But never a friend as wonderful as you my dear.” The mirror replied. With its words came the mental impression of a hand gently brushing back her hair and stroking her head. Involuntarily she smiled with pride.
“You flatter me, but that was not a direct answer.” She glanced up at the mirror, noticing her own reflection blushing even as her actual face smirked. “Who?”
“Look then upon the final page of the book that now belongs to you, my present to you yesterday upon your 11th birthday.”
She flipped the pages and traced the faded ink upon the page and a sign written in blood, old and flaking but soaked into the vellum and still legible: the royal seal. “This tome belongs to Baramondrumir, Crown Prince of the Royal House, a gift from my one and only true friend who lies beyond the mirror.”
“Great-great-grandfather, Emperor Baramondrumir…” She glanced up at the mirror, smiling with delight. “You helped him didn’t you?”
“There was greatness in him, and he was a very good friend to me. I met him much as I did you. He was a precocious boy exploring the palace, and here he found me. You have often reminded me of him in some ways, but smarter, more confident, more headstrong. I gave him that book as a birthday present yes, but upon his 12th birthday, not his 11th as I have to you.”
The telepathic voice from beyond the mirror’s glass leaned in and gently kissed her upon the forehead.
“You my dearest, you are special.”
Pride swelled in her heart. She walked past Great-great-grandfather’s portrait in the Hall of Images nearly every day. A giant among the unbroken lineage of Emperors and Empresses, his image was one of the grandest, and his deeds legends.
“Great-great-grandfather was one of the grandest mages in history.” She glanced down at her ancestor’s handwriting and gritted her teeth with the realization that she’d already exceeded him and by extension her sister who had no great legacy recorded in the Hall of Images. “He could peer into the minds of men and discern their hearts desires, even among those who’d warded their minds and their dreams. He rooted out disloyalty among the nobles and he punished them as they deserved. Oh I wish I could have been there with him when he showed them the error of their ways.”
In her mind, she pictured the face of Emperor Baramondrumir: triumphant and stern. Seated upon his golden throne before a banquet table, seven hundred traitors’ bodies lay impaled, strangled, or reduced to piles of ash by his hand.
“Seven hundred nobles slaughtered before they’d eaten and drunk their fill, their rebellious thoughts discerned and punished.” The child grinned with delight, her expression and the gleam in her eyes matching almost perfectly with her ancestor’s. “Of course, I would have made them suffer more…”
Leaning in once more to stroke her hair, her friend beyond the mirror smiled, “You my dearest, you are so very, very special.”
Seven more years passed and the princess continued to learn from her friend beyond the mirror even as she learned from her court granted tutors. As she exhausted their knowledge she had them dismissed or sacrificed for the glory of the Empire and her own vainglory. It was the same with her litany of lovers. They served to please her, but in truth she enjoyed her time spent high in the tower rather than with one or two or a dozen noblemen or slaves naked in her chambers seeing to her every carnal whimsy.
For each year that passed her vanity increased as much as her power and arcane might. The child princess grew to a young woman and then to an adult, coming of age with the sacrifice of a hundred past lovers doused with molten gold one by one as they sung her praises and begged for their lives. None survived. In that moment she seemed so like her terrible, powerful ancestors, all of them seated upon golden thrones: crowned, beautiful, stern, cold and pitiless.
With each year the princess who had begun as an innocent child continued her recapitulation of the progression of the Imperial line in the Hall of Images. Where they had begun as regal and kind, each generation grew more powerful and more devoid of mercy and humanity.
It was late winter and the sun hung low in the sky, looming large and umber, shedding its cool and dim light through the tower chamber’s windows when she stepped within to stand before the mirror and stare at what lay beyond.
“Father is dead,” Her voice carried no sadness, only a sneer. “Mother will be burned alive atop his funeral pyre.”
She snarled and the mirror gave no immediate response. Not once did her eyes shed a tear. Only anger and bitter jealousy crossed her face, pale and statuesque in its beauty.
“Soon they will crown my sister Empress once the proper respects are paid by the nobility and the funerary marches have scattered the ashes across the Empire.”
Still the mirror remained silent, but beyond its surface a pair of hands silently folded and waited.
“She does not deserve to be Empress!” The princess screamed, breaking the calm, serene self-control she had always possessed. A screeching, ranting child of 18 years of age remained, throwing up her arms and hurling priceless treasures about in a storm of telekinetic fury. “My sister does not deserve MY crown!”
“It does not have to be hers…” The voice from beyond the mirror whispered, seductive and calm.
Broken from her moment of rage, the princess looked up, abandoning all concentration upon her spells. Staring at herself in the mirror with eye’s filled with need, jealousy, and desperation, dozens of antiques and golden objects crashed to the floor. Ignoring the clatter and loss of priceless objects, she continued to stare as the wheels of her mind whirled, her face blank except for a creeping madness in her eyes that spoke of blood and avarice.
“How?” She stared at her reflection in the mirror and to her friend beyond its surface. “Tell me. Tell me how.”
“Fight her.” The mirror’s voice was cool and calm in her mind, as seductive as it had ever been. The words skittered across her brain like burrowing insects or the wriggling words of spells memorized into the mind. “Claim the throne for yourself. Marshal your forces to your side and slaughter all those who oppose you. Seize your rightful throne by your own might while your sister would simply have it given to her like a gift unearned.”
“…” Confusion crossed her features and twice her mouth opened to speak and then closed. Confusion turned to anger and incoherently she screamed again, pointing at the mirror. “It isn’t that simple! She commands more forces than I could hope to call to my side! I don’t see how I even have a chance.”
The mirror’s surface rippled, distorting her reflection. For a moment she was there as before, as always, but with a golden Imperial crown upon her head.
“Invoke the Law of Divided Blood, first written into Imperial Law three thousand years ago by your predecessor Empress Jallia II. Invoke the Law at the Imperial Funeral before your mother. Hurl the burning brand at her chained feet and turn to your sibling then.”
In the mirror, flames flickered at the base of her reflection and danced within the jewels of the crown upon her head.
“So I declare my right to the crown there, but then what?” She paced back and forth before the mirror, considering her options. “As the one making the claim by the Law of Divided Blood I set the first conditions of our war. But she has so many advantages. Which one do I deprive her of?”
“Force her to renounce the use of magic if you do the same.” The voice beyond the mirror chuckled.
“What?” She blinked in ever more confusion. “Her armies will crush mine if I do that. I’m the greatest sorcerer in the history of the Empire and she knows this.”
“Yes. Yes, you are.” The mirror’s voice swelled with pride. “You are the greatest to have ever come before me here. I am so very proud of you my friend, my only friend. Your sister knows a great deal of magic as well, but she is nothing compared to you.”
“Then why would I renounce my only advantage?!”
“Because,” The voice of her friend grew softer and something in the air gave the impression of narrowed eyes, a sly smile, and clasped together hands, “Because she will never know that you are using it in the first place. There are more types of magic than taught by the Imperial mages and practiced by the nobility. I know every manner of magic that exists. I will teach you more. All you must do is ask.”
Bathed in the mirror’s soft radiance, the princess smiled and for a moment her image reflected in the glass smirked ever so slightly more than she herself had.
The light of the great red star was short and dull, the universe taking sympathy perhaps and reflecting in the natural state of the world the Empire’s somber mood in the wake of Imperial death. It was under that light that the Princess made her claim to the throne and hurled her world into civil war, and it was under the stricture that neither side would use magic.
It should have ended swiftly with the slaughter of hundreds of thousands. The imperial roads should have been lined with the crucified bodies of those pledging loyalty to the younger princess, and the nobility should have anointed themselves with the greasy ashes of their fellows who chose the wrong side in a pointless war. There was no swift end.
Fighting raged and cities burned. Inexplicably the princess’s armies blunted her sister’s forces. Skill and zealotry seemed backed by luck that defied the laws of probability. Weather patterns somehow favored her forces and supply lines by sheer blind chance. Disease struck the population of cities that opposed her and with each calamity, with each improbable success on her part, not a trace of magic could be found.
The capital city was the first place to fall. There she dug in, isolating herself for days at a time in the high power, staring into the mirror, whispering words that grated upon the ears and caused her eyes to bleed, or still and catatonic, her mind flown elsewhere on currents of forbidden power.
Her followers only saw her victories. They never heard the screams from within the royal palace late at night. They never noticed the corpses of the old and infirm who died in their sleep, inexplicably missing their hearts. They never noticed the symbols that swirled within the eyes of carrion birds lazily drifting above battlefields. They never noticed the cuts upon their princess’s arms and legs from ritual bloodletting. They never witnessed the birth and subsequent agonies of a would-be royal heir written upon with blade and hot iron before being strangled with its own umbilicus. They never saw the smile that never left the princess’s face during her act of ritual filicide.
Her followers only saw the improbable happen as inexplicably she survived against overwhelming odds.
The swollen red sun that burned down on their world turned seasons and the first year of civil war passed. One year turned to two and slowly, finally, the elder sister’s forces began to seize the inevitable upper hand wrought of sheer numbers, even against a twin for whom the very Gods seemed to turn the world to her favor time and time again.
“Teach me more.”
Though not a trace of magic could be seen, the Princess used ever more overt sorcery. The dead rose and fought for her. The sky roared with lightning and showers of acid. Falling stars obliterated towers and bridges.
“Teach me more.”
Never understanding how it was possible except that it was, the elder sister broke their truce and unleashed magic of her own, taking the upper hand. Cursing her name, the younger sister no longer hid her displays of power and swiftly the stalemate resumed.
Time dragged on but slowly the stalemate broke and the inevitable drew closer and closer. Four years passed and the capital city stood surrounded on all sides, its held and fortified territory slowly shrinking day by day. Blood flowed in the streets, filling grand designs carved into the marble and the younger sister commanded her forces to fight to the death and then beyond, binding their will to hers along with their souls. Each death empowered her magic and snuffed out one more priceless immortal light.
“Teach me more.”
The Princess shivered with the chill of winter through the open tower windows, but also from the gauntness of her frame. Scars traced across her frame and her own blood stained her royal robes. Something other than friendship had brought her to the tower that day, something even more than arrogant desire: desperation.
“I have taught you so very much my child, my dearest friend.” The mirror’s voice was caring, soothing, and seductive as ever. For once though, the mirror seemed to its one and only friend to be holding something back.
“It is not enough.” The Princess snarled and looked to the mirror. Smoke rose on the horizon and every day her sister drew closer. Even she could see her coming defeat and death.
“Do you wish to know more?” The reflection in the mirror moved independent of its friend, putting away the spellbook in her hands and reaching for another, a great black tome that now graced its hands but which found no physical corollary beyond the reflection’s world. “Are you certain?”
“Am I certain?” The Princess laughed, not with madness but with a terrible resolve. “Of course I am certain. My sister’s armies surround us. Without something more…”
The mirror did not reply. The image in the glass smiled, its eyes black and sparkling like sapphires under a crescent moon. Softly its fingers strummed the book’s cover. It had what she desired. It had always held what she desired. But of course, she had to ask. She had to request. This time she had to beg.
“Give me what I need.”
The reflection smiled. The words were correct. The desire was there.
“My friend, you have answered my question before I even asked.” The words were an extended hand held out with a smile before pushing a drowning man back below the ice. “I can give you what you need.”
“Give it to me.” A trickle of blood dripped from her nose.
“I can and I will, but my friend you must understand that there is a price for this knowledge.” The words of warning only served to taunt; a great treasure dangled before an avaricious child, tantalizingly just out of reach. “It is a beautiful, terrible thing; a thing that I created you see. It carries a terrible price that must be paid in order to possess it.”
For only a moment the Princess paused. She gave one glance to the window, looking out upon the looming armies on the horizon and the smoke billowing from fires burning in the dying city below, and then turned back to the mirror and her friend, the thing there beyond the glass.
“I will pay it. I will pay anything.” A thin line of blood leaked from her ears. “Please…”
The mirror’s surface swirled, liquid and fathomless, but her reflection did not shift or sully, instead it reached out and took her hand, clasping upon her wrist, cold and firm before the reflection vanished and revealed what lay beyond the mirror’s surface. What she saw there for the first time was the face of her one and only friend, just before it gripped tighter with claws upon her flesh and pulled her through.
Inchoate screams issued forth from the highest tower, and they continued there, ongoing and horrific, when the sun rose the next day.
Something had changed. Something had reached into the world, touched it, and inherently altered it. Feeling it and hearing reports of screams from her sister’s palace, the elder Princess looked up from her encampment at the edge of the capital city and made the decision that she had waited years for.
The screams still echoed across the ramparts when her armies tore down the gates, and despite the agony she heard, despite the pain twisted sound of it all, she recognized her younger sibling’s voice. When she stepped foot past the gates though, the screams stopped and a telepathic voice touched her mind with a warning.
“Hello sister.” The voice was chill and devoid of emotion. “I will warn you only once before it is too late for you. Lay down your arms and command your armies to do the same. Surrender now and give me the crown that is and has always been mine and I will let you live. Continue to fight me and I will slaughter you and everything that you claim to rule.”
Her face a marble statue filled with the same cruel beauty as her sister, the elder Princess scoffed as her troops flooded into the city through the gates and over the walls. Within an hour it would be over.
“Put the population to the sword.” She commanded to her generals. “My personal guard will accompany me to the palace and there we will end this. The crown will rest upon my head, and my sister’s dipped in molten gold will serve the function of a royal orb. Raise your swords and follow.”
“They are here my friend.” The mirror’s voice was oddly triumphant as the sound of footsteps and steel echoed up the stairs to the highest tower.
The Princess sat, floating in mid air upon a conjured throne, holding her hands upon a book that existed only in the mirror’s reflection. Blood ran from her eyes, ears, and nose. She laughed and rose to her feet.
Magic and fists pounded upon the door. Stone fractured, wood splintered, and spells of warding buckled as they failed. She could have held them off. She could have sealed the room for weeks, but she no longer had need of such things. She had no need to forestall her inevitable triumph.
“Let her come.” She whispered, reaching out to caress the mirror’s surface even as her fingers blackened and burned at the touch as they slipped below the liquid and there beyond.
Turning to face the door she waited, patient and confident. She needed to see her sister’s face in the end. She’d given her a final warning, and she needed to allow her the chance to surrender. She found however, that as the door rocked on its hinges, she no longer wanted her to surrender.
With that thought in mind she smiled and wiped away the blood upon her face. Fire and passionate hate danced in her eyes a moment later as the door finally buckled and burst asunder.
The elder sister stood there, hand extended, fingers pointing and a gaze of hatred marking her features as much as the tone of her first and only words, “Kill her.”
The soldiers charged.
“You know what I have taught you.” The mirror’s reflection clasped its hands with delight, now seen for the first time in eons by more than a true and trusted friend. “You know what you must do. You know what you desire. After all, it’s what you wanted. Speak the Word and it is done. Speak the Word my darling. Kill them all.”
From beyond the mirror, staring out into the tower’s highest room, illuminated by Charn’s bloated, dying sun, Lazarius ibn Shartalan smiled.
Returning the same expression for but a moment, Jadis turned to her older sister and opened her mouth.
She gave not a speech.
She gave not a condemnation.
She did not plead for her life.
She spoke but a single word.
A single Deplorable Word.
Lazarius Ibn Shartalan. The Architect. 1st of The Demented.
Of all of the Baern, no name carries more horrific dread and power than that of the Architect. At the same time, virtually nothing is known of the greatest of the Gloom Fathers itself. All that exists are the whispers of the dead and the prayers of yugoloths.
The Architect crafted the Loadstones of Misery upon the Waste to funnel its power to a specific purpose.
The Architect constructed the Shadow Sorcelled Key.
The Architect instructed the mad Bleaker, Ghyris Vast, in his creation of the Divinity Leech to drain the divine essence of dead gods within the Astral.
The Architect penned the first spells empowered by the substance of Evil and then whispered them to the first mortal creatures begging for power no matter the price.
The Architect creates, littering the planes with poisoned, diseased masterworks, like pox-tainted blankets distributed to those fearing a harsh winter.
The Architect called to its siblings, gathered them together, and there in the primordial dust of the Waste, set in motion the creation of the yugoloth race and the future course of a newborn cosmos like an infant with a congenital infection.
The Architect gathered together The Demented and with their combined power they exiled or slaughtered all others of their kindred, devouring their power for themselves and bringing agreement to their plans for the Great Wheel where previously there had been only discord.
The Architect was the first child of the unformed substance of Evil, the singular godhead of malevolence before it fractured, split, and grew to a myriad of other names and identities. The only one to remember that original unity, undivided and whole was the Architect, first of the Clan of Baern.
The Architect is the only member of the Demented to not inhabit and dwell within one of the various altraloths or one of the other yugoloth lords such as the Keeper of the Tower, the Oinoloth, or the General of Gehenna. Whether it parasitizes the Waste itself, the yugoloth race as a whole, or perhaps the others of The Demented remains an open mystery.
The baern did not cast out Apomps from their number for his heresy in creating the gehreleths, but rather Apomps fled in terrified self-exile, having seen and understood the Architect’s plans for the reality of the Great Wheel.
All of these are lies.
All of these are truth.
All of these will be the doom of creation.