"Life and death aren't tangential. Make of that what you will."

Pouvri-Jer, "Addendum to Everything", speach at Walk-By-Moonlight

Mathian's hands were wrinkled and thin like sticks. When he wrote, his fingers seemed to twitch, partly because of old age, partly because of his addiction to an aromatic tea that sent his old body into override. He'd started drinking it nearly two years ago and he felt it gave him enough strength to start a project he'd always regretted not starting: a book. A detailed, artistical account of the Age of Thunder up to that point.

A scrawny servant girl brought him another cup of the energizing tea. He grunted his thanks, but she did not leave the room.

"What is it?" the First Scribe snapped.

The girl flinched.

"Nothing, m'lord."

There was a long pause, but the girl did not leave.

"Is it important?" Mathian sighed.

"I heard someone in Her Majesty's chambers," the servant blurted out, looking immediatly remorseful.

Mathian stared as she turned around and dashed out of his study. Peculiar, he thought.

---

"You know why?" Pridius whispered.

"Demon, I won't go through with this plan of--"

"Because," he continued, "if you have an illegitimate child, any of your relatives, no matter how distant, can put their claim to the throne. It might not be enough to make them emperor, but..."

"It would throw Mekij in chaos," she muttered. After a long silence, she continued, "And what would be the advantage of having an illegitimate child as monarch?"

"Not just any child," he smirked, "but one protected by the Order na Keddo."

"Your little demon order can hardly be--"

"That powerful?" he cut off. "Ah, but what if I told you Chayaz was their little pawn?" he whispered, relishing her surprise. "And one of them is, quite literally, in bed with the Empress?"

Casen wanted to slap him for his insolence.

"I'll consider it."

"Consider faster."

"Something wrong?"

"The future is unsettling."

"It always has been."

"This time worse than before."

---

Mathian could, indeed, hear hushed voices through the door. He could also not be more surprised. Who would have thought, someone as frigid as Casen...

Chayaz would have to find out about this.

---

The next weeks were puzzling, if anything. Mathian couldn't prove his claims, even after having sentinels posted at Casen's door.

It also seemed that her rate of executions quickened during these weeks. It was probably no coincidence that they were all people who had somewhat of a relation to the er-Gajjash line. If anything, Casen seemed to be "eliminating the competition", so to say, a practice long employed by those aspiring to the throne. But it made no sense. She was already empress.

Nothing seemed to make sense anymore.

---

"Kill the scribe, he's started to become an impediment."

"Mathian? Ah, but I thought you found him amusing!"

"That was before he found out about us."

"...Teqano also knows."

"How?"

"Perhaps from Chayaz. He asked me today if I had truly 'bargained with demons'. Is the future still unsettling?"

"Now more than ever."

---

Fev stood by the window, watching the mountains in the distance. Oh, if life could be as unchanging at those eternal ridges! He wouldn't be forced to deal with such things!

The streets were bloody. He couldn't see the blood, but he could feel it, burning his feet whenever he exited the palace.

Some things had to be done, he told himself. Part of the blood was Mathian's. If he was dead, who would be next? Chayaz? Teqano? Most likely himself.

He knew his hate had reached its peak this morning, when Casen coldly informed the council that Mathian was being executed just as they spoke.

He wanted desperately to succumb to this hate, but he bidded his time. Casen was in labor. She will soon be alone, and if he timed it right-- and she didn't die in child birth, because he desperately wanted to kill her himself-- then she would be at his mercy. It would be an inversion of their situation that he would relish.

He removed the dagger from his belt and admired the metalic glint and the simplicity of the blade. His decision was made.

The Red Empress would soon be red with her own blood.

---

The End