Warbreaker Prime: Mythwalker Chapter Four
The following is a draft chapter of Brandon’s unfinished novel Mythwalker from 2001. Brandon later repurposed some elements of this story into Warbreaker, Mistborn, and The Way of Kings.
Devin sat in the detention cart morosely, pulled up against the side of the bars, his head slightly bowed. The cart was nothing more than a cage on wheels, a place to display those soldiers who were to be an example for the rest of the army.
“They’re moving again,” one of the other men mumbled, standing at the front of the cart. Devin paid him little heed—he felt far too sick.
“But we are not,” the other soldier noticed, speaking with a gruff voice. “The army will move faster without the supply carts. This was probably our last stop—now the Guard is off to fulfill the prince’s plans, whatever those are.”
“And . . . what of us?” the other voice asked.
Devin sighed, looking up. The detention cart sat amongst the supply teams, which were slowly beginning to move forward. His companions were a small boy, perhaps fourteen years old, and a grizzled man who had a scar on his face and was missing a pair of fingers on his left hand.
Devin remembered the boy—he had tried to run back to his home after the first day of marching. The Kkoloss had sent men all the way back to his village for him, then he had been carried back to the army and whipped before the rest of the men. Desertion was not a good idea.
The older man, sat quietly for a moment, mulling over the boy’s question. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “We’re Eruntu, so they’re supposed to give us a trial before a member of the priesthood before they can execute us.”
The boy looked visibly shaken by the word execute, and he turned to watch the army disappearing in front of them. The carts took a different route, turning down a fork in the path just past where Devin had . . .
Oh, Hess, Devin thought with a sigh, resting his head down on his knees. He had done as asked, and had been punished anyway. The Kkoloss were supposed to be impartial and just. And yet, Devin had been ordered to kill for no reason—the Skaa could have just as easily been captured and confined. Worse, when Devin had done as required, he had been reprimanded. It didn’t make sense.
The Prince is getting ready for something big, Devin decided. Something that the Eruntu might not understand. He’s going to order them to do something they won’t want to do, and he had to make it obvious that he expects complete obedience.
Devin hadn’t done anything wrong. He had simply been used to prove a point. Somehow, the realization of that fact made the Prince’s actions seem even more unpleasant.
“Surely he won’t . . . kill us,” the boy at the front of the cart said quietly.
“He’ll have to,” Devin mumbled. “We’re examples. If we aren’t executed, then the lesson won’t be as poignant.”
Desertion, and disobedience—they were things that could destroy an army. Even after only a week in the Guard, Devin understood that much. If the Prince wanted to keep complete control over his men, then he had to show that these sins would not be tolerated.
As if to prove Devin’s point, the older soldier nodded beside him. “He’s right,” he said. “Be at peace, lad. We go to a better place.”
The boy groaned and slid down into a whimpering huddle. Devin felt like doing the same. Things had been going so well. True, the army hadn’t been what he wanted, but he had begun to find his feet and understand his place. The different captains had taken a liking to him for some reason, and he had been beginning to earn their trust. That had all been ruined in barely a few seconds of disaster.
There were no more words exchanged. Devin continued to ponder, the younger boy continued to whimper, and the older man seemed content with his own thoughts. Devin was so wrapped up in his situation that he almost didn’t notice when the trees broke and the cart emerged into full daylight.
And, even amidst his sorrows, the sight of the capital was enough to make him gasp in awe. The stories were true.
The detention cart sat atop a steep incline, looking down at the city. It was a magnificent sight. Perfectly circular and surrounded by a low wall, the capital was by far the largest city Devin had ever seen. The eight palaces ran in a ring around the city’s perimeter, each one equidistant from its neighbors, and each one crafted from a different color of amberite. The palaces glowed in the sunlight, glistening like giant glass sculptures.
In the direct center of the city was the Imperial palace, seat of the Emperor himself, holiest of places in all of Kkorimar. It was here that the priesthood made its home, that the Emperor held court, and that the prison of the Demon God had been sealed. The Imperial palace was larger than the eight royal palaces, and it twinkled a deep lavender, its glassy walls forming a series of domes and arches.
Devin regarded the city for a long time, his actions mimicked by the young Guard. The older man seemed slightly amused by their looks of awe, though his face soon turned thoughtful again. Devin followed the man’s gaze toward a large rectangular building that squatted just outside the city wall. It lay on the eastern side of the city, nearest to the angular red palace Devin assumed belonged to House Sserin.
“What is it?” he asked.
“The Sserin Guard compound,” the other man explained with a grunt. “Barracks for the men, and dungeons for those who have offended the King.”
Devin felt a chill creep up his back. The line of supply carts were winding their way down a path toward the Guard compound.
“The training grounds are empty,” the older soldier noted, nodding toward a flat green area beside the compound. “The troops are all out in a Game somewhere. We’ll probably last the night—the King will be too busy with the battles to worry about our executions until then.”
“Executions?” the boy at the front asked. “But, we’ll get a trial, right? Eruntu have to be given a trial. We’re not Skaa, after all.”
The older man eyed Devin, then just shook his head with a wry smile. “You explain it to him,” he grumbled, leaning back and closing his eyes.
Siri Kess Dass, fourth Sept relative of Queen Dora Mas Sserin, third Sept daughter of House Dass, did not consider herself disruptive. She was simply . . . enthusiastic. She liked to enjoy life, and as far as she had been able to tell, few people in the court understood the concept of ‘enjoyment.’ They connived, they plotted, and they whispered, but none of them actually seemed to enjoy themselves.
It was, Siri had determined, mostly because of the rules. Life in Kkorimar, especially for a Kkoloss woman, had far too many rules. True, Lord Hess believed strongly in order, but his subjects were people, not priests. They deserved a little more leeway—a little more imperfection.
Unfortunately, most people simply couldn’t see the light of Siri’s opinions—no matter how often, or how vocally, she explained them. The most powerful example of such was Lady Vvenna.
Vvenna Mas Sserin, daughter of the queen, was the perfect Kkoloss woman in every respect. She sat patiently as Siri pulled a brush through her long red hair. She was calm, like always, and quiet, like always. Vvenna followed every rule, knew every courtly policy, and had memorized books full of etiquette and law. Of course, that was the type of woman one had to be when one was betrothed to the Emperor himself. It took a special kind of woman to marry a descendant of God.
The two sat in Vvenna’s rooms in the Sserin palace, preparing to watch the day’s Game. The walls and floors, constructed of smoky red amberite, dully reflected the sunlight from above, bathing the entire room in a hazy crystalline light.
Siri worked quickly—the day’s Game was to be an important one, a massive contest between House Sserin and House Kkeris, the two most powerful Houses on the continent. Vvenna, as a daughter of the Queen, would be expected to attend. And so, therefore, would her primary handmaiden, Siri.
Of course, if the truth were known, Siri was hoping that House Sserin would lose this day. Prince Vevinn would be leading House Kkeris’s troops, and Siri knew for a fact that he had placed a specific clause in the winnings agreement. Should House Kkeris prevail this day, then Prince Vevinn would not only win the typical awards of amberite, gold, and land, he would also be granted the opportunity to demand a bride from amongst the daughters of House Sserin—or one of its affiliated minor houses.
“Continue your brushing, Siri,” Vvenna said with a quiet voice.
Siri sighed. “Yes, My Lady,” she said, turning back to her work.
“We must prepare ourselves quickly, Siri,” the princess said. “Otherwise, we might miss the opportunity to watch your prince.” Vvenna’s eyes twinkled for a moment, though she didn’t smile. First Sept Kkoloss women—especially the betrothed of the Emperor—never showed emotion in such an obvious manner as smiling.
However, Siri had been the woman’s handmaiden—and friend—since the two were children. She had learned to judge Vvenna’s attitude from the subtlest hints—Vvenna’s soft comment was the equivalent of a hearty congratulation from another woman.
“Oh, Vvenna,” Siri whispered. “Do you think he might actually win?”
“He has in the past,” Vvenna noted in her quiet way.
“But this is to be an enormous battle,” Siri continued. “Everyone down to those of the seventh Septs will be watching. Perhaps Sserin will rally, and finally defeat Vevinn.”
“Perhaps,” Vvenna admitted. “However, if the King does so, I suspect that Prince Vevinn will find another way to obtain what he seeks.”
Siri felt herself blush. “I’m probably just jumping to conclusions,” she said with a determined brush. “I haven’t even seen the Battle Agreement—I don’t know what Vevinn demanded as a prize for winning.”
Siri looked toward the princess’s red-twinged reflection in the mirror, hoping for some sort of sign. Vvenna’s eyes didn’t even twitch, however. As a first Sept daughter, Vvenna was privy to all Battle Agreements involving her House. She knew what Vevinn had demanded if he won, just as she knew what House Sserin had stipulated as the price of its potential victory.
However, Vvenna was far too accomplished a politician to give a hint of what she knew. She continued to watch Siri in the mirror, stoic as always.
Siri finished combing the princess’s hair and began applying the girl’s makeup. Vvenna preferred a subtle application, with a careful rosing of the cheeks to match her House color. Siri worked dexterously, applying the princess’s facepaint—just as one of Siri’s handmaidens had done for her earlier in the morning. Only the lowest of Kkoloss had to rely on Eruntu servants. Amongst those of sixth or seventh Sept, Siri was a lady of great power. Before Vvenna, she was a servant. It was the Kkoloss way.
And, sometimes Siri resented it. She resented the rules, the politics, and the implications. Fortunately, as a fourth Sept daughter, Siri had a lot more freedom than most. At the same time, one was considered of ‘royal’ blood until the fifth Sept of a major House and the third Sept of a minor House—requirements Siri met on both sides.
And so, Siri had the benefit of both prestige and freedom. She really was in an enviable position—she told herself that every time she grew annoyed at what was expected of her. After all, if Hess had really wanted to curse her, He would have given her Vvenna’s place.
Siri sighed quietly, finishing the application of the princess’s makeup. Siri often felt sorry for Vvenna. Of all Kkoloss women, Vvenna was required to be the most perfect, for she was the betrothed of the Emperor. Other women could laugh occasionally, could engage in courtly play. Not Vvenna. She had been promised years before her birth, and had been raised knowing the role she would someday fulfill. For others, the rules of court were guidelines. For Vvenna, they were amberite chains.
The time was coming when those chains would become a prison. Vvenna would wed the emperor in just one month. Today would be the final Game before the wedding celebrations began, and when they were finished Siri would have bid her friend farewell. The concubines and wife of the Emperor were locked away in his palace, rarely to be seen.
“That is good,” Vvenna said, referring to the application of makeup. “Come, let us go.”
The princess rose, and Siri followed. Vvenna seemed to glide forward as she walked—and, in a fashion, she did. The Sserin Female Kkell power was that of litheness and gracefulness—a counterpart to the Male Kkell Power of Strength. Siri had once—only once—seen the princess trip. However, instead of falling to the ground as a regular person, Vvenna had seemed to float—she could change her weight with a thought, altering her body so that it was as light as a sheet of paper. The Sserin women, like those of Dass, were considered amongst the most desirable in all of Kkorimar. Only perfection would be enough for the Emperor.
The Emperor. The most powerful, most holy, and most feared Kkoloss in the world. He was a wraith of a man, a dark incarnation of Hess’s will. Siri knew her hatred of him was probably irrational—however, she didn’t care. He was, after all, the one who would steal her best friend away. Of course, Siri had never voiced her loathing of the Emperor—no matter how much freedom she thought she had, such blasphemy would not be tolerated. Though, secretly, she knew that all of the Kkoloss hated the Emperor—he was the only one who had the power to steal away a Kkoloss’s Kkell power. Even a member of the First Sept feared offending the Emperor, for at a whim the Emperor could drop a Kkoloss down five Septs.
“Are you coming, Siri?” the princess asked, standing by the door.
“Um, yes, My Lady,” Siri said, rising quickly as she realized that her mind had been drifting again.
Vvenna nodded as Siri approached, then turned to walk out of the room with her arms held perfectly at her sides, her scarlet dress’s long sleeves trailing well below her knees. So calm, so composed, so . . . perfect. Of course, that was what she had been raised to be.
The young Guard tried to escape as a pair of older Eruntu soldiers unlocked the cage. One of the Guards tripped the boy as he jumped past them, and the poor child ended up dropping to the ground with a crack. At first, Devin worried that he might be dead, but a few groans from the direction of the ground said otherwise.
Of course, Devin thought ruefully as he climbed from the detention wagon, what does it matter? All three of us will probably be dead before the end of the week.
Yet, even as Devin thought the words, allowing himself to be led into one of the large Guard complex’s side doors, he didn’t believe them. Not yet. He could think ‘I’ll be dead soon’ without actually acknowledging what that meant. How could he, Devin, be slated for execution? He had done nothing wrong; there had been no blasphemy. Where was justice? Hess would protect him.
The Guards led them through a series of hallways, past several empty rooms, and eventually to a flight of stone steps that led down into darkness. They walked down in silence for a short while, eventually arriving in what was obviously the dungeon. It was just as dark, as unyielding, and as stark as the stories claimed dungeons to be. It was the type of place that discouraged escape—or even thoughts of escape—by its sheer gloom. However, it was much cleaner than Devin had expected. The stones looked mopped, and though the stench of bodies was present, it wasn’t by any means as rancid as Devin might have expected.
One of the guards pulled a set of keys off the wall and led the three men down a poorly lit hallway lined with solid cell doors. There was no fighting, no attempts at escape. They walked, Devin included, with disbelieving steps, their heads bent in shame. Some of the cells were full, but many were empty—a good sign, Devin thought, until he realized it probably didn’t mean that few men were arrested. It probably just meant that justice was swift . . . and permanent.
The guard opened a door and shoved the boy, who was still reeling from his stumble, inside. The older Guard followed. However, as Devin did likewise, the prison guard grabbed him by the arm.
Devin looked up with surprise. The guard was peering into the dreary cell. It was a small room, and already bore two occupants besides Devin’s companions. There were only four cots for sleeping.
“Come on,” the Guard said, swinging the door closed and leading Devin to another cell.
Devin followed with surprise. Either the man noticed his expression, or he expected it, for he spoke quietly a moment later. “We’re all Guards, even the ones who’ve failed. I won’t make a fellow soldier sleep on the floor if I don’t have to.”
The guard approached a second cell and opened the door. Immediately, a form leapt through the door, a piercing battle scream escaping its lips.
The Guard casually grabbed the form—a scrawny-looking man in tattered clothing—and easily tossed it back into the cell. “In you go,” he said, nodding toward Devin.
Devin complied, walking into the small room. The door shut behind him with a clang of finality.
“You fool!” the spindly man called from the back of the cell. He picked himself up off the floor and pushed past Devin, pressing his face up against the bars.
“Don’t you realize you’re being oppressed?” he called after the retreating Guard. “You’re serving the very force that enslaves you! How can you imprison fellow Eruntu when the Kkoloss dine on cleancrops every night! Care you nothing for decency, freedom, justice!”
“I don not think that he is listening to you, friend Skeer,” an ingenuous voice noted from the back of the cell.
Devin turned, still a little dazed from all that had happened to him, and studied the cell. Like the others, it was rather austere. There were four cots, two against each wall, and a small pit in the center with a circular wooden lid—presumably a kind of privy. All four walls were made of bars, and from his vantage Devin could see that the back of the cell overlooked some sort of large chamber—a circular room with cells running around it.
The man who had spoken sat at the back of the room, his face hidden in the shadows. Devin looked closely. There seemed to be something odd about him. . . .
“They’ll never understand,” the one called Skeer declared, still standing with his face pressed against the door’s bars. He was tall for an Eruntu—perhaps a few inches over six feet—but lanky and rather scrawny. He still had his face pressed against the iron bars. However, as Devin watched, the man sighed and pulled back, shaking his head.
“Understand what?” Devin asked.
Skeer turned, regarding Devin with suspicious eyes.
Devin looked back uncomfortably. “Um, why are you looking at me like that?” he asked.
“You’re a spy, aren’t you?” Skeer accused. “They sent you to try and worm my secrets from me.”
Devin frowned. “Me?” he asked with confusion.
“So innocent looking, so supposedly confused,” Skeer said. “Yes, you’re definitely a spy.”
“Whatever,” Devin said with a sigh. He’d been through too much to care what this man thought of him. Devin turned, walking over to sit himself on a cot. He still couldn’t believe it. He, Devin, had been thrown in a dungeon.
Skeer watched him go, looking almost . . . unhappy. “Don’t you want to know about my secrets?” he asked. “Secrets so important, I would take them to my grave. Secrets the Kkoloss would like to have, but cannot. Secrets that, no matter how hard they torture, no matter what they do me—pain, agony, violence—I will not reveal. Secrets about . . . the Eruntu Rebellion.”
“Rebellion?” Devin asked skeptically.
“Ha!” Skeer informed, whipping a hand into the air. “I will never talk, spy! Your Kkoloss masters are fools for thinking to get past Skeer so easily!”
Devin felt himself grow cold. The Kkoloss, fools? How could this man say such a thing of Hess’s chosen? A part of Devin—the small part that wasn’t numbed by the thought of his impending execution—was fascinated by this Skeer. The man seemed exaggerated—even a little ridiculous. However, there was passion in Skeer’s eyes. True passion, like Tevel had shown when speaking of his woodcarvings, or like Mayor Brene’s eyes when he looked over his numbers and figures. It was the type of passion that made things happen.
“I don’t think he’s a spy, Skeer,” the other man said from the back of the room, his voice sounding simple and honest. “They would not have thrown him into the prison if he were their spy.”
Skeer regarded Devin for a moment. “Perhaps,” he admitted. “He does look a little too confused to be a spy. He stood for a second more, then he strolled over and took a seat on the cot beside Devin.
“The Eruntu rebellion, boy,” the lanky man explained quietly, as if he’d forgotten about his earlier hesitance. “The rebellion against the Kkoloss. The Eruntu have decided to overthrow Kkoloss oppression and become their own people.”
Devin frowned. The idea was not only blasphemous, it was insane. The occasional Eruntu lunatic tried to start a rebellion against the Kkoloss, but they were always quickly destroyed by the Guard. “A rebellion?” Devin asked. “You mean like Kkornen the Wild?”
“Yes!” Skeer said. “Just like Kkornen. Except, of course, we won’t get caught and beheaded.”
Devin just shook his head. The Kkoloss had Hess’s divine favor, not to mention the Kkell powers. Who would consider overthrowing them? Who would even want to?
“I see the concern in your eyes,” Skeer said sagaciously. “Confusion, complacency, misunderstanding. You are like the others—you can’t see what is happening to you, what is happening to all of us. We are oppressed both religiously and intellectually.”
“You’re a very odd man,” Devin informed.
Suddenly the third man, the sitting on the cot on the other side of the room, leaned forward out of the shadows. Devin started, looking at him with a frown. The man’s skin was a dark black, and his body proportions seemed odd somehow. He looked like a man, yet his form was slightly off. He was a little over five and a half feet tall—average for an Eruntu man—and had a medium build and a completely unremarkable face, except for the black skin, of course.
“As a human, I am very frightened, for this is a situation in which we humans would be frightened,” the man said. He spoke with a slight accent—like the occasional travelers Devin had met from far away cities. However, his accent was strange. He spoke with a completely flat monotone, and he ran his words together, not putting pauses in the proper places.
“What . . . ?” Devin asked, his incarceration and worries forgotten for a moment. “What are you?”
Skeer looked up from his contemplations. “Him?” Skeer asked. “That’s Ix. I don’t know what in Hess’s name he is. He was in here when they threw me in.”
Ix sat awkwardly beneath Devin’s stare. “Why do you ask me what I am? I am obviously human, like you, so it is odd that you would wonder what I am. I am obviously human. My name is Ix. Being human, I am happy to meet another human, such as yourself, so that we can be friends.” Ix smiled at the speech’s completion—an expression that looked a bit contrived, his eyes darting from side to side uncomfortably.
“The guards say he’s some kind of Desicrate demon that has taken over a person’s body,” Skeer noted. “They’re executing him tomorrow.”
Devin grew cold, watching the creature Ix. The Desicrate? Night Spinners? The stories said they could call down the Demon God’s unholy followers and set them upon unsuspecting mortals. The priests of Hess had always taught against them, warning of their dark rituals.
Ix’s eyes focused on Devin. The eyes were open, even childlike. He didn’t look evil; he just looked eager to have Devin’s acceptance.
“We will now shake hands because we have met and now we are friends,” Ix said tentatively. “It is a ritual we humans use to make ourselves feel more comfortable with strangers.” Ix held out his hand.
Devin paused. The priests said that trafficking with shadowlings was an act of chaos, an act contrary to the will of Hess. It would gain him Ki-Ssu, and a man burdened with Ki-Ssu would never gain entrance to paradise.
Ix sat with his hand extended, looking increasingly uncomfortable.
They also told you that killing Skaa was no sin, Devin thought to himself. And that Kkoloss were perfectly just. This man has done nothing to prove himself evil.
Gritting his teeth, Devin reached out and took Ix’s hand. Devin didn’t feel the condemnation of Hess come upon him, nor did Ix suck away his soul. Instead, he simply felt the creature’s hand—it felt just like a regular human’s hand. Ix smiled.
“Hess . . .” Devin said, releasing Ix’s hand and sitting back, somewhat amazed at what he had just done.
“You are exclaiming the name of Deity because you are surprised to meet me,” Ix explained. “Many people do this when they meet me. Either that, or they are very frightened. We humans are easily frightened, and we easily throw ourselves into prison for looking different.”
“Yes, I know, Ix,” Skeer said, sitting on his cot, his hands pressed against the sides of his head. “You’ve mentioned that at least a half dozen times. Now kindly be quiet—I’m trying to concentrate. If you’re lucky, I’ll find a way for us out of this place. I, for one, don’t intend to end up on the wrong end of a Kkoloss noose.”
“I will be quiet now so friend Skeer can concentrate,” Ix said, settling back on his cot.
Devin looked from Skeer to Ix. Before Devin had been thrown in prison, he’d never met an insane man. Now, apparently, he’d met two.
Prince Vevinn watched the fight with discerning eyes. His soldiers were doing well—King Sserin’s forces had been pushed all the way to the back of the battlefield. It was a massive confrontation—involving nearly every soldier in the Kkeris Guard, a force of nearly ten thousand Eruntu. Of course, Vevinn’s sources said that it House Sserin had been forced to apply itself in an equal manner; their Guard complex was completely empty.
Nearly a fourth of King Sserin’s Guards lay dead or wounded. Vevinn supervised the Game from the back of his war horse, King Dunn Vas Sserin himself directed the Sserin army—though Vevinn couldn’t see the man from his vantage.
“It is nearly time for the break, My Lord,” a lesser Kkoloss—Veln—said from Vevinn’s side.
Vevinn looked up with surprise, checking the sun. Midday had come and passed several hours ago—it was indeed nearly time for the break. Sure enough, just minutes later a massive horn sounded from the direction of the spectator’s pavilion.
Vevinn frowned. Another hour or so and the battle would be over—he had pushed Sserin’s forces nearly out of the proscribed battlefield. If more than half of the troops retreated across that line, the Game would be over. However, Vevinn doubted it would go that far—Sserin would conceded before he lost too many more soldiers. Vevinn would have preferred to keep fighting through the break. However, the rules of the Games were strict. Time was necessary to gather the wounded Guards and drag the dead from the battlefield. Besides, the Kkoloss needed to stop for dinner.
“All right,” Vevinn said. “Let’s fall back to the Kkeris pavilion.”
Veln nodded, galloping off to deliver the order. As per tradition, every Kkerin man of noble blood—those of the first through fifth Septs—would return to their pavilion to plan and eat. The lesser Septs would stay behind and supervise the reorganization of the Guard members.
Vevinn waited for a few moments as the greater Septs gathered around him—about thirty men in total—then they galloped back toward House Kkeris’s pavilion. It was a relatively long ride, taking about a quarter of an hour. Sserin had been forced to retreat far from the Game’s beginning point at the center of the battlefield.
About halfway through the ride, Vevinn paused. He was passing the Sserin pavilion, a bright red collection of tents where the Sserin women, elderly, and militaristically uninclined waited, receiving continual updates on the battle’s progression.
“Continue on,” he said to the other men.
Veln and the others paused in surprise, but Vevinn waved them on. Eventually, most of the men continued on—only Veln, Vevinn’s sworn attendant, waited behind. Any order to leave naturally wouldn’t include this man—a first Sept Kkoloss never went unaccompanied. To gains Ssu, Veln would follow Vevinn wherever he went.
Vevinn rode up to the pavilion and swung off his horse, Veln doing likewise behind him. Two Eruntu Guards bowed to Vevinn and backed out of the way as he strode through the open pavilion doors and into the large tent.
Inside, the Sserin Game Ball was going strongly. Men and women sat leisurely—or, at least, as leisurely as highly ranked Kkoloss ever sat—speaking quietly with one another as a group of Eruntu minstrels played in the background. Near the back of the pavilion, several Sserin generals—just back from the battlefield—stood speaking quietly. The powerfully muscled King Dunn Vas Sserin stood at their head.
Everyone was dressed in some shade of red, of course, and Vevinn’s bright blue uniform made him the immediate source of attention. Dunn turned as conversations quieted, his eyebrows raising as he saw Vevinn.
“Welcome, Prince Vevinn,” the King said formally, speaking with a powerful voice. Dunn Vas Sserin was an enormous man with muscles so large he towered over even his own generals. Of course, even the muscles were a poor indicator of his incredible strength. It was said that the Sserin Kings, with their greatest portion of Kkell Power, could lift a horse as easily as another man lifted a dinner roll.
Vevinn bowed slightly—Dunn did, after all, outrank him. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” he said in his courtly voice. “I simply wished to congratulate you on your skill in fighting so far.”
“And I bid you the same, Prince of the First Sept,” Dunn said slowly. He was known to be a simple man, though not unintelligent, with a short red beard and a massive head of red curls. It was hard to believe that he was nearly a hundred and fifty years old—his face looked so powerful and commanding, his body so strong, that he seemed no older than seventy.
“Your tactics this day have been superb,” King Dunn continued. “I suspect, perhaps, we shall have to concede to you that which was promised.”
Vevinn barely kept himself from smiling as his eyes sought out the true reason for his visit. Siri sat beside her mistress, princess Vvenna. The two made a stunning pair—in fact, their beauty was so nearly matched that they could have been sisters. Yet, despite her lesser rank, Siri was by far the more attractive of the two—if only because of the quick smile she shot at Vevinn as he looked at her. For some reason, he found her freedom—her ambivalence for courtly rules—refreshing. She would make an . . . interesting wife.
Vevinn caught her eyes, drinking in her beauty. After this day, he would have her as a betrothed wife. There was really no reason to have come visit the Sserin—he would see her soon enough anyway. Still, he liked to wish his opponent good fortune—it was always best to seem munificent where the Games were concerned.
“Hess’s blessings in the battle, Your Majesty,” Vevinn bid. “I must return to my own pavilion to prepare.”
Dunn nodded in dismissal, and Vevinn left, climbing on his horse with Veln behind. A short trip later they arrived in their own pavilion.
The scene here was very similar to that of the Sserin pavilion, though the Kkeris blues were much easier on Vevinn’s eyes than the red had been. He accepted a cup of wine from a passing attendant, quickly making his way through the clusters of chatting women to where his generals stood. However, before he could discuss the strategy for their final victory, there was one other duty he needed to perform.
King Sliv Vas Kkeris, Vevinn’s father, sat in his throne on the far side of the pavilion. The aged man had a long dark beard—elderly Kkoloss always dyed their graying hair to distinguish them from Eruntu. However, though the King had age, his eyes did not show the wisdom usually accompanied by one of his stature. Instead, his face was twinged with a hint of maddened idiocy. At the advent of his two hundredth year, Sliv had begun to lose his memory. Fifteen years later, he was little better than a child. Still, Vevinn paid him homage, bowing formally before the slow-minded man.
Sliv ignored his son, idly tossing small pebbles at a cup halfway across the room, grinning like a fool. Every rock landed perfectly—even in madness, the Kkeris Kkell Power of Skill held sway. King Sliv was the most skillful, accomplished idiot who had ever lived.
Beside Sliv stood Vevinn’s older brother, the Heir. Slor Vas Kkeris was an overweight man with a perpetual frown on his face. Vevinn had never gotten along with Slor, though such was not widely known. The Priesthood kept careful watch on the Kkoloss Houses—with Kkell Power dependant upon heredity, assassinations were more common than would be admitted. Hess discouraged such activities—the Kkoloss were supposed to fight through the Games and intrigue, not through assassin’s knives. Killing a member of one’s own family brought with it a heavy burden of Ki-Ssu. Though the Kkoloss were guaranteed a place in paradise, one who accumulated too much Ki-Ssu would find his rank in the afterlife severely hampered.
Fortunately, Vevinn had little desire to become heir. Not only would he have had to kill all three of his elder brothers—an action that would undoubtedly lead the Priesthood to unadopt him from his own House—Vevinn did not wish the burden of Kingship. Being a First Sept sibling was enough for him, especially since none of his brothers had much interest in the Games, leaving command of the Guard to Vevinn. As long as he could fight, and as long as he had Siri, Vevinn would be content.
Vevinn bowed to his brother as well—though not as deeply. Someday Slor would be King, and then Vevinn would give him a King’s bow. The day King Sliv died, the mantle of House Kkeris would pass to Slor. The son would become the new House Leader, and the strength of his Kkell power would grow to equal that of his father.
On that day, all Sept relationships would be redefined—people’s Septs would be determined on their relationship to Slor, not the old king. Vevinn’s own portion of Kkell power would remain the same—sons and brothers were both first Sept. However, Vevinn’s uncles would drop from first Sept to second, and their power would shrink slightly. Cousins and relatives would also drop by one Sept, draining a bit of their Kkell power. Needless to say, the death of a King was a widely grieved event.
Formalities seen to, Vevinn turned back toward his generals. There was little to prepare—the battle would be over almost before it began again.
Vevinn paused, frowning. He thought he had heard something over the minstrels. He listened again. It sounded like . . . armor clinking. Had a squad of soldiers come up from the battlefield? But, no, that was impossible—none of them were mounted. It would have taken far to long to cross the distance to the pavilion.
At that moment, the Eruntu Guards outside the tent yelled out in confusion. Vevinn turned with amazement as red-clothed soldiers began to tear through the pavilion walls.
Sserin soldiers! He thought with amazement. But, that’s impossible! How did they get here without us seeing them? Our spies watched every movement on the battlefield.
However, even more baffling than the soldiers’ appearance was what they did next.
They began to attack the Kkoloss.