Opera, now self employed, arrives at Lacrimund Castle with an intent lacking in both preparation and virtue...
She held an envelope sealed with wax in one hand while she extended the other to open the doors she had chosen to place before her. The siren's path was somewhere between brilliant and foolish, but she had been stricken blind to forethought ever since her arrival to the palace due to the solid mix of fear and excitement that stirred within her.
She was inches from the door when a hiss gracefully shattered the silence, causing her hand to retract to her person. The siren spun to her flank where she detected the noise's emission, but her eyes could not elaborate beyond the engulfing shadows.
A man emerged from the umbra, difficult to see in the sparse light that dared be cast upon him. Expensive blue garments adorned his blotched skin and oily hair. His age was indiscernible, a stark contrast to that of the obviously youthful and virile appearance of the woman. He bore the wrinkles and lines that belied both the stress and experience he compressed into his years, however many.
"Who are you?" The woman demanded, her naturally silky voice sullied with a defensive shock. He said nothing for a moment, merely peering at her with a gaze different from those she had become accustomed to in the slum alleys. She grew uneasy in this moment of silence; he apparently saw something intriguing about her aside from her figure and deliberate allure, something she seemed unaware of.
After the eon of discomfort that was a moment of quiet, he responded. His voice was a hiss, low and coarse but relaxed. His speech flowed from word to word without space for breath in between, but did so with a discomforting grace and articulation.
"The wise heed warning," he began enigmatically, "The Empress is... a frightful creature. Her fury would be most indomitable if she were, oh... say, visited upon by one she did not expect? Tell me your name."
The siren's response came without hesitation, if sounding a bit rehearsed.
"My name is Fayette, daughter of Bartholemeau Janus and unwed wife of the crown heir, Demotto, son of Lexander. I have every right to be here as I have been personally invited by the Empress herself." She played her verse with an air of arrogance with the intent that a guest of the Empress would hold fair sway over most palace inhabitants.
"Is that correct?" He asked rhetorically, lingering over the situation. "This is... very interesting. What proof have you that you are not merely an agent of an enemy of our Empress, or, oh... say," His eyes lingered over her person as a whole before he cast his gaze directly into her own, "A slum-hailed supplanter?"
Her eyes widened in surprise, but it showed only for a moment before she fixed her dismay into an offended stare.
"This letter and seal come personally from Janus, my father." She held her gaze of condescension but remained hesitant to risk saying more.
The man promptly broke the seal and read the letter. His expression remained empty until he finished, first raising his brow, then his gaze to look over the siren. He hissed, drinking in the contents of both the letter and her words.
"Very interesting... As I previously stated, the Empress is a frightful creature. She shall prove to be increasingly dangerous as her accumulation of personal knowledge of you grows. I, however, humbly offer my aid in-"
"That will be all, Chancellor."
A cold, feminine voice cut into the slow rhythmic nature of his words from the opposite end of the hallway, silencing the man and forcing his expression into one of either hateful disgust or disgusted hatred. "I shall handle my own affairs, and you may handle yours. Elsewhere."
The Empress had crept into the passage undetected, showing herself only as she chose to. She appeared as a mass of white, flowing garments topped with a decorative alabaster helm that concealed the upper regions of her face. She approached them swiftly and gracefully, outstretching her pale hand in beckoning of the letter. The siren merely watched.
Without averting his gaze from the Empress, the Chancellor slowly surrendered the letter. He then proceeded to goad her.
"You have some interesting, oh... what do you call them? Affiliates?"
"And you, Chancellor, grow dangerously bold." Her response came in her natural speech, cold and prompt. "I give such warnings to so very few; next time your departure shall not be so willing."
He hissed in an indirect recognition of her blatant dismissal and threat, but let malice seep from his eyes and betray his submission. The Chancellor returned to the shadows without turning away, silently disappearing as if he were never there.
The Empress filed the letter away in her robes and gowns without reading its content and turned to face the siren.
"I must apologize for the Chancellor. He is a snake."
The Empress calmly sailed past the still silent siren and approached the two doors ever looming.
"Let us converse in shadows more familiar, as we have so very much to discuss, you and I."
As if prompted by only her will, the great doors opened before the two women. The Empress sailed out of the corridor with blase grace, while the siren was left stunned and dumbfounded by both the passing events and the visage beyond.
Shadows hounded at her heels as the hallway behind her seemed to grow even darker. The path the siren chose bore no alternate routes but ever forward.
Before the voluptuous redhead lay an expanse of paradise. It was a garden, with flowers of countless and nameless varieties adorning aesthetic shrubbery surrounding alabaster statues of maidens and warriors and beasts, all randomly placed to create the visage of a sanctuary removed from time. Vines and fountains covered the stone walls that were the rest of the fortress, masking any reminder that this place was part of a man-made foundation and not an illusory haven. The ceiling was a dome consisting of mirrors and stained-glass that was not quite opaque but not quite translucent, coating the entire scene in a twilight of half-shadows and pale colors.
The Empress strode to a stone dias in what appeared to be the very center of the room. Her sleeves and robes and gowns sailed behind her as if intercepting a wind, but the air held still in the private conservatory. The siren followed, albeit several moments behind. She stopped several steps from the Empress. When they heard the doors shut behind them, they faced each other.
The Empress spoke first.
"I am the Empress Iona, wife of elected Emperor Lexander Armiger, and ruling sovereign in his absence. Are you aware of the circumstances as to your presence here?"
It took a moment for the siren to respond, torn between the grandiose of her surroundings and hostess, as well as her hostess' candidness.
"I am to wed the crown heir, Demotto of Armiger."
The Empress remained silent for a moment, watching and musing.
"And are you aware of both mine and your father's role in this arrangement?"
The Empress again took a moment to observe the situation. The siren said nothing else, but could sense the fear growing inside of her. She felt the pace of her heart quickening, and could only imagine what thoughts were forming beneath the Empress' alabaster mask.
"I regret to inform you that the crown heir, Demotto, is in no need of a consort. He is headstrong and vain, and unfit to mandate the throne. I am confident he will not bare the reigns of this country despite his seniority."
The siren briefly interpreted the Empress' intent for her son before returning her thoughts to her own predicament. She quietly began to worry about her own fate. When the Empress sensed there was not going to be a response, she continued.
"My younger son, however, does show potential. Diomede would also make a fine husband."
The siren, nervous, again had no ready response but felt obligated to speak in the Empress' silence regardless. She slightly bowed her head as she spoke.
"I know neither, but humbly trust your judgment of choice."
"Fayette," the Empress beckoned, turning her head slightly to give what the siren could only assume was intended to be a sly look, "Would you find it intriguing if I were to inform you that the previous consorts I have arranged for turned out to be no consorts at all? But spies, and agents. I was left with no alternatives but the ordering of their executions." She threatened in a manner that gave the siren an impression that ordering executions was an affair the Empress conducted after breakfast. "I do grow tired of interviews ending in death. I so despise those who appear as what they are not."
"I assure you, my lady, I am no-"
"Opera." The Empress spoke the siren's true name. Her abruptness and changed, casual demeanor silenced the siren and forced her eyes wide. "Those who defy me are punished with death, but those who lie to me suffer indefinitely. I am, however, aware that Janus the Crimelord did not dispatch you to remove me. I might even venture the guess that his knowledge of your presence here is minimal."
Opera remained silent, struggling to cease her trembling.
"Luck seems to have taken a divine pity on you, Opera, for it seems that my Eyes are running thin. Should a regrettable event fall upon the Emperor during his wars, it shall be my junior son Diomede who plays ruler to this country, not my elder son Demotto. I had originally bartered for the Crimelord's brat of a daughter to fill this gap in my roster. Due to recent, unfortunate, events, my desires lay no longer with her servitude, but with her death.
"You, Opera, shall prove to be a severely superior spouse and spy than that roguish brat. You would suffer a lifestyle of luxury most simpletons could not dream of comprehending, but you would report, serve, and obey myself exclusively until death under penalty of death."
Opera merely stood for another moment, her thoughts lost among the labyrinth that was her situation and opportunity. She thought of her brother and her brother's paramour. She thought of herself. Was this not her initial plan? Is this not what she had intended for?
The Empress hastened her thoughts. "Speak, and let your response prove true beyond the present; Your disappearance now is within a whisper, but do give ear to my words: a swift arrest and execution now is most preferable to the fate endured should your pledge prove ill and your intentions cross my own come future."
Another eon passed in the handful of following moments, the siren's thoughts both blazing and blank. Her brother could be happy with his brat, and she could have her power. Was this not why she abandoned the Crimelord, why she distanced herself from brother? Her brother, who seemed to find abandoning others an effortless task.
Opera responded, her gaze cast to the verdant ground beneath her during her considerations.
"I understand." Her courage mustering, she raised her eyes to look at the Empress' mask, where she assumed her eyes to be staring back.
The Empress remained silent for a moment more, waiting to observe any other subconscious or unintentional reaction from the pressured siren. Finding none, a thin, terrifying smile formed on her white lips. When she spoke, her tone was once again detectably different.
"I am most pleased, my dear Opera." Her smile vanished. "Now, prove to me your catharsis of loyalty. Prove you are worthy to sit in my employ. Bring me the brat you so pathetically attempted to emulate. Bring me Fayette."
"Yes, mistress." Opera thought back to the previous day, "I know exactly where she is to be found."
"Depart immediately, and return to embrace a glorious fate happened upon by lightning chance."
"Yes, my mistress." Opera surrendered a moment to ponder at her charge. Such a task might actually prove to better the her situation. With the removal of Sierra, Duran would have no reason to remain in the service of the Crimelord. With the brat's absence, the brute would have no choice but to return to his only, his beloved sister.
She raised her chin slightly and narrowed her inked eyelids in musing of her predicament. Opera did her very best to view as many advantages to her situation as possible, and her best was not unimpressive; her internal panic was only meagerly apparent.
The siren nodded to the Empress and smiled her beautiful smile.
The siren left the Empress' paradise, leaving the Empress standing seemingly alone in the center of the floral sanctuary. The unsettling luminescence struck at her form and features in such a manner that portrayed her as a lifeless, alabaster statue. She cocked her head to speak at the statues and shrubbery at her flank, her voice slicing through the silence.
"Speak, snake. I will not have you roaming unchecked in my domain."
The Chancellor's low voice emanated from her surroundings in his usual, hissing whisper.
"So... You are in league with the Crimelord, Janus?" He stepped out from one shrubbery or statue or another with such grace that it turned difficult to exact where he had been hiding, but stood with proper form as he would before any superior. "Interesting..."
"He is no concern of yours." She spoke without facing him.
"Oh... I find the siren to very much be a concern of mine."
"I have sent her to retrieve Janus' real daughter, the brat, Fayette. If there is one who can tear a rift between Fayette and her brutish escort, it shall be this siren. The brute, in his profound lack of intelligence, shall inevitably follow. When he does so, we shall await him."
The Chancellor hissed. "You believe you possess the capacity to hold the brat here against her will? She is a bird uncaged; no lock, no series of chains nor bars has yet to keep her bound. If she is truly desired as bait, then I suggest you... convince her to desire to stay."
The Empress turned to face him.
"Do not concern yourself with such petty details. You shall receive your siren, and your brute, and the brat shall be silenced."
"For both our sakes, I hope it so. What of the other... ends?"
"The siege upon the New Church follows according to plan. They did not foresee an assault baring such haste, and have fallen with minimal strain. The Emperor has summoned us to him before nightfall, for what I can only imagine to be a boast of victory. We can learn more upon arrival."
"Interesting... Even so, there are yet... a few additional ends in requisite of tightening..."
"Hold." The Empress' hand raised to physically interrupt his words. She lowered her head in concentration, as if to listen to something beyond the Chancellor's senses. His gaze hunted its way around the garden labyrinth, but found only futility in its search of source.
"What beckons?" He questioned.
"Another approaches." She raised her head and again returned his gaze. "We depart for the siege come sunset. Now, begone from my sanctuary."
He bowed low at her dismissal. "Yes, my mistress..." The formality seemed to be in mockery. The Chancellor once again stepped out of view, vanishing as if his mistress was talking only to the surrounding statues.
The Empress stood erect and elegant as a set of looming doors opened behind her.