The clever ones will know I’ve been reading shadows–folding them, discarding them like bruised fruit from a basket, meddling with magic that had never been touched before. They’ll inevitably discover my spellweaving. And of course they’ll wonder what I made, then they’ll dig to find out why.
I was Yuroma, after all, Archmage of the Amber Empire. I was arguably the sharpest, quickest mage alive, the most likely to survive plunging my hands into the dark. And despite the risks, I had more to gain than most would. It will puzzle them to no end when I’m no longer here to open my secrets like clam shells.
But my secrets stay shut.
His Imperial Excellency Daráthnivol, Emperor-to-be, was taken aback when he met his Archmage. Yuroma was young to fill the position, despite having served under the last two short-lived Emperors. She dressed half like a fisherman’s wife, with only the traditional earring to mark her as part of the Amber Order. Daráthnivol had envisioned a harder, bolder-looking woman. Yet Yuroma was to be his adviser, his right hand. He didn’t have much say in the matter.
Daráthnivol waved for his counselors to withdraw, leaving only two stationed guards, himself and the Archmage in the throne chamber. It was a cold room, with black floors that shone under the glimmer of amber lanterns, black walls that blocked the sun, and a black ceiling that fell too low like a tall man’s cloak on his son. It all felt lonely beneath the blazing blue of the Imperial crown. Only one day in the Palace, and already lonely.
“Tell me something of yourself, Yuroma,” Daráthnivol said, reclining to look more at ease than he felt.
She raised a single eyebrow. “Do you intend to keep your watchdogs at the door?”
“They’re only guards. Do those without magic bother you so much that you can’t introduce yourself in their presence?”
“Not at all. But you and I can dispense with all the pleasantries.”
Now she was beginning to annoy him. “I’ll decide when to talk pleasantries and when not to. Now tell me something–”
Before Daráthnivol could finish, the carved metal fire of his crown flared up, suddenly alive with heat. He shouted and hurled the circlet away, whipping his hands back lest he burn himself. It was her. Her hand had moved in the motion of an invocation. She’d tried to burn him, the Amber Emperor in waiting.
“Is this how you dealt with my cousin before me?” Daráthnivol snarled, standing up. “Guards!”
The guards stayed motionless at the back of the room.
“Guards!” he shouted now. “Get this wretched vixen out of my sight!”
Still motionless, curse them to the bottom of the ocean.
“They can’t hear you,” Yuroma said. “Or see you, really. I prefer to have this particular talk in private.”
“How dare you? I am your future leader!”
“And I’m your Archmage,” Yuroma replied. “You might not want to cross me on your first day here–seeing as how I’ve conveniently outlived one or two Emperors before you.”
Daráthnivol found his pulse speeding up, racing even, and his hands suddenly slick with sweat. Her threat felt too heavy to ignore, too quick, too forward, too real. He staggered back and tripped over the foot of his own throne as he tried to put some distance between himself and this mad, dangerous woman.
“I have no intention of hurting you, boy,” Yuroma said. “If I did, it would have happened long before you got to the Palace. Do you believe me?”
“Guards!” Daráthnivol shouted again. “Someone! To the throne room!” Why did they ignore him?
“Save your breath. No one will hear so much as an echo while my spell holds.”
“What the blazes do you want?”
Yuroma advanced another step, causing Daráthnivol to flinch. “I want you to be a little kinder to your subjects than the last few Emperors have been, little Rath. Your family has bled these islands dry. They’ve squandered hard-earned funds, abused their servants, raped where they liked, killed where they weren’t liked, and generally done more to shield their own backs than to guard the Amber Empire.” She stepped near one of Daráthnivol’s newly oiled hands, sending him skittering backward to the throne. “All these patterns will die with you, Emperor-to-be.”
There were tears in Daráthnivol’s eyes now. His hands shook as he tried to push himself farther from the narrow-eyed Archmage. His mouth hung open, formless whimpers issuing out. Why the dancing devil had he sent everyone else away?
“You will be the most beloved Emperor in recorded history,” Yuroma added. Then she snatched her hands apart, summoning a twisting vortex of magic as blue and deep as the ocean. “Or you can be like your cousin was and die like he died. Are we clear, Your Imperial Excellency?”
Daráthnivol’s mouth hardened, even as fresh tears formed under his eyes. “You can’t command me, whether you’re Archmage or Archangel!”
“Do as I advise or you might become an angel yourself, Rath. Or more likely a groveling pitspawn of the devil you and your royal family like to impersonate.”
With that, she twisted her hands once more, dissolving her vortex and magicking the crown back onto Daráthnivol’s head. Then she walked from the room as if they’d just talked about dinner.
Daráthnivol stared after her until his breathing calmed and he could find his feet. Even then his guards seemed not to notice that anything had been amiss.