"Someone scribbled a few words at the entrance to her tomb. In the end, that was the only epitaph she ever had. The words were: 'Traitor to some, hero to many.' And underneath that, in different writing, 'Murderess to all.' Nobody forgave her, not even those she helped."

--Paresh ce-Vabod, "The Life and Times of the Red Empress", 564 A.o.H.

The day was grey and dull. These were the ages fit for cloudy days. Sunny days always did convey the feeling that the sky was laughing at people's grief.

There was plenty of grief to go around, as well, for someone different, every day. Empress Casen er-Gajjash was quite fond of bloody public executions (the last unfortunate victim had been the First Scribe of the Empire, Mathian er-Malash, an excentric old man with a knack for blindly hitting diplomatical hornet's nests)

Not anymore, however. It all changed and nobody was sure how. But overnight, word had come out that the Red Empress had died in child birth and everybody in the capitol city of Val Lay was silently hoping this was true.

The years had been difficult. Before, when the Empress was but Princess, all hoped for better. Her father had been, after all, a harsh and bloody man. What nobody expected was for his daughter to be worse.

Perhaps it was in this day and age that a particulary nasty rumor had appeared. They said that the First Family of the Empire had made a pact with demons. That they were using magic.

It was highly disturbing, considering everybody in Mekij knew to steer away from magic. It was bad news all around and anybody foolish enough to try harnessing it always died a bloody, lonesome death.

Heralds spread through the streets by mid-day. They comfirmed that frail hope vallayans were clinging to: the Empress' reign was over. Even her two children died soon after she did.

But just as news spread to Morredra, Kavali and Saye, as to some other neighbouring counties, all hell broke loose.

What everybody forgot was that, with no Empress or heirs to the throne, there was a distinct power void. The Empress, unfortunately, had killed all her relatives, close or distant, and had made it extremely clear that she was the only one on the continent fit to rule. And after that, her children.

In a show of impressively well-coordinated panic attack, all the counties closed their gates and treated all incursions into their territory as hostile.

Inside the palace walls, however, things were eerily calm as puppetmasters were gently tweaking the strings they so-loved to pull.

A/N: This is kind've a spur-of-the-moment kinda thing, so... whatever. If you've read "The Bird", you might have already met Mathian er-Malash and his inane ramblings. Heh. I just wanted to create a more coherent situation for this world I have goin' in my head.

I'm not sure where this is going, but if you have suggestions, feel free to share.