Her hands shook as she carefully lifted the lid on the box that had been hand delivered by a Royal Guard. The only reason she believed that it had been delivered to the correct Dhaoine was the fact that her name was scrawled across the lid in shaky, barely legible script. She recognized the handwriting easily because the Anointed One had always been better at speaking her native tongue than he had been writing it.
That and his handwriting was atrocious regardless of the language, but that was neither here nor there. Not right now.
There was no reason why she was being given a parcel, not when she had been trying to reach the Anointed One for months. Not when all her pleas and missives had gone ignored since the Battle of Thyralphael. And yet here she was, receiving a box wrapped like a gift? From the Anointed One himself?
She would laugh if she wasn’t so damned terrified of what she’d find beneath the black packing paper that lay innocently beneath the lid. She would throw the damned box out the window if she weren’t certain doing so would trigger a destructive response strong enough to take out the Lord Queen’s Palace let alone the City itself. And while she was many things, while the blood of millions stained her arms all the way up to the shoulders, those hadn’t been the lives of innocents. Sure, the Palace and its surrounding compounds weren’t filled entirely with innocent lives but she wouldn’t risk that whatever trickery the Anointed One had no doubt attached to the box wouldn’t be powerful enough to wing beyond her control and target those undeserving of its ire.
So she engaged the wards on her suite of rooms and set the lid down on the table, praying to the Many as she began removing the packing paper that this was not the day she died. That this was not the moment when her hard work blew up in her face.
Her heart thudded into her throat as she removed the last piece of paper to reveal a tiny vial no bigger than her thumb, a braided black chord threaded through the silver stopper keeping it closed. Hands shaking worse than before, she lifted it from the box and held it up by the chord so the firelight glinted off its surface, showing the Hylric Runes carved into the glass and filled in with molten silver. The magick that dripped from it was so strong it was a wonder she hadn’t felt it through the box; the incessant demand it had that she bend to the will of the magick that encompassed it making her body tremble all the more. Tearing her eyes away from it as fear slithered down her spine she caught sight of the folded piece of parchment that had been tucked next to it. Replacing the parchment with the vial she saw the knotwork that was scrawled across the back of the packing paper and realized that the Anointed One had written a containment spell on each sheet so that the vial didn’t set off any alarms before it reached her.
Because he knew she wouldn’t open it anywhere but the privacy of her rooms with the wards engaged. Knew that because any time he had ever sent her anything, be it a gift, a punishment, or a letter, she had always retreated to her rooms and opened it there. And he had seemed so damned proud of her when she’d told him that. Like it was a stroke of intelligence none of his other devotees showed.
The Many See me always.
She swallowed hard before unfolding the parchment and felt the blood drain from her face as she read what he had sent her. With each new instruction she read she felt like there was a vice around her heart, squeezing tight and tighter until the pain in her chest bordered on agony. She couldn’t draw a deep enough breath and her vision swam at the edges with undulating dots of darkness.
Though to be fair, she should have expected this.
Shouldn’t be surprised that the Anointed One had seen fit to use her for this, no matter how terrified she was or hurt she felt. It was an honor, really, that she was chosen but despite that, she had hoped that she would be chosen for something greater. That she would have been called for something more than this.
Looking back at the vial that had begun to glow softly, she swallowed hard and closed her eyes, sending one last prayer to a god that hadn’t responded to her kind’s prayers since before she had been born. As her fear returned, as the need to break things and scream and wail at the unfairness of it all increased, as regret swelled hot and swift in her belly that she had chosen this side instead of the Grey Qishir’s, she let out a deep breath and reached for the vial.
“Hear me,” she intoned, willing her voice not to shake as she gripped the stopper with her other hand, barely able to keep either one steady, “for I Speak the Steward’s Oath.”
She let out another breath and thought of her wife’s mischief-filled eyes, thought of her husband’s smile and their son’s bright, clear laughter. Begged them silently for forgiveness because she would never see them in the After like she had promised them she would. She had never once thought she’d chosen the wrong side, but she wasn’t nearly as certain of that anymore.
“With this Oath, I give strength to a cause more noble than any that has come before or shall come after.”
Her body fell to the floor with a heavy thunk and she blinked, not remembering falling. She didn’t bother trying to sit back up, there wasn’t a point. With a shaky breath that she knew would be her last, she finished the Oath for no other reason than because she refused to fail in this like she had with everything else, “On all that I am and ever shall be, I dedicate my life to you. On my magick and my life, I give you everything you never gave me: I give you my Self.”
Her last thought as she pulled the stopper out of the vial and agony, pure and absolute, engulfed her was, I am so very sorry.