256 The New Orders*
*Eldovian Era 1713, 21st day of the 9th month*
Jane had only ever set foot on the streets of the Imperial Capital of Arrslon on 2 occasions in her life. The first when she had received her appointment as part of the Imperial Magicians, and the second just a few months later when she'd received the others for her first mission. It had been nearly 3 years since then, not a very long time in terms of significant changes. In saying that, it had been long enough for something to happen.
Jane hadn't been able to put her finger on it at first. After all, everything still ran the same as it had before. But the closer she got to the Palace on the West side of the city, the more obvious it became. The lack of casualness. The smiles and laughs, once an accompaniment to the bustling life of the city, now faded like old paint. It remained but there was no actual joy in it. And their eyes…so wide and cautious. So full of mistrust.
"Have we been recalled to be deployed on a battlefield?" asked Laura, her eyes catching the same differences as Jane.
"I've heard no reports of wars breaking out," Rizan replied.
The group lapsed into silence once more, still deep in thought as they observed those around them.
Finally, they came to the southern gate of the Palace. The one that permitted entry for the Imperial Knight and Magician Contingents. It was a practical gate with no magnificent adornment of any kind except the black and gold colouring of the imperial house. Jane stopped before the guards stationed there.
"Master Magician Jane of the Imperial Magicians, Team Caged Mist," Jane stated.
The guard glanced at the token she presented, then waved the five of them inside the gates of the Palace.
They made their way past the training grounds towards the Imperial Guild Hall. Upon entering, they were immediately directed up to see the Imperial Saint Magician herself, Elva Mavenhall.
"Ah, Caged Mist, we have been expecting you for some time," Elva stated as she stood, "I'm sure you are all tired from the journey, but the Crown Prince has requested your presence as soon as you arrive".
The group looked to each other before Rizan spoke.
"The Crown Prince?"
Elva nodded, ushering them towards the door again, "That's correct".
"But…since when did Eldovia have a Crown Prince?" asked Laura.
They hadn't heard of a Prince being born. Of any child being born to the royal house, for over two decades.
"The Emperor is quite protective of him, he is not often let out in public," stated Elva, "But he is…old enough to be a Crown Prince".
Elva seemed hesitant on answering that. Was it forbidden to speak of the Prince's age?
Regardless, they thought it best not to ask further questions as they were walked from the Imperial Guild Hall across the quarter to the Imperial Palaces. Elva walked them to the Black Lion Palace, the official house of the Crown Prince. It had been empty for many years, but now it was lively with servants and guards surrounding it.
Elva walked them through the halls before she paused before the reception room. She turned back to address them.
"Don't try to take in his highness's appearance. Speak only when spoken to," stated Elva, "In fact, Jane, you alone will speak".
Jane opened her mouth to protest. She was a commoner; she may have been head of the team but speaking to the Crown Prince…
She had no time to voice her concerns however as Elva turned and nodded to the eunuch standing beside the door.
"Imperial Saint Magician Elva and the Master Magicians of Team Caged Mist".
The voice was child-like, so the Prince couldn't have been very old, but there was something in it that seemed older, a hint of arrogance and self-assurance perhaps? He had every right to be those things though, he was the future ruler of Eldovia.
Elva led the group in, keeping her eyes cast down. Jane and the others copied her stance as they entered, then the group knelt in the centre of the room, heads bowed. The fluttering of a curtain allowed them to know that they were separated from the Prince, unable to see beyond it.
"Caged Mist…you are the Magicians that were reporting on the Moonshadow business, yes?"
Elva nodded to Jane and Jane took a breath before she spoke.
"Yes, your highness," Jane stated.
"I see, your reports…"
Jane and her team waited on baited breath for the Prince to continue.
"…were somewhat lacking in detail," the Prince admitted, "I was disappointed to not be as impressed as I was by your Graduation Mission Report. I have come to question your worth to the Imperial Guild. 3 years, and you could give me little more than what was already public knowledge".
Jane closed her eyes to gather her words carefully before she lowered her forehead to the floor in a clear bow, "We have disappointed his highness, please, tell us how best we can redeem ourselves".
The Prince sighed, "It would be a pain to seek out another team to replace you. Especially one that may not have the same potential…very well, I will give you another mission, one I hope you can complete with greater ability".
"We are ready to serve, your highness," stated Jane.
"I'm sure you have heard of the Vanguard," the Prince stated, "We had an understanding with the makers, but they seem…unwilling to continue with that understanding. I need you to convince them otherwise. Understood?"
"We understand, your highness," Jane replied, moving back to sit upright.
"Good," said the Prince, "And Master Magician Jane?"
"Yes, your highness?" asked Jane, a little surprised that he knew her name.
"You will not return with such disappointing results again. Bring me something substantial…by any means possible," stated the Prince.
Jane bowed her head lower.
"Understood, your highness," said Jane.
"You are dismissed," stated the Prince.
Kevaster Kildare watched as the Magicians left his rooms, his eyes unimpressed. That was the girl his father had played with as a child? How disappointing. She was barely passable. The Prince, who appeared around eight years old despite his 3 years of life, looked down at the beautiful maiden whose head rested across his lap. Her eyes were distant as she stared at the curtain, the dried tracks of her tears a remnant of the wonderful pitch of her screams just minutes before.
He reached forward to run a finger down along them, and she flinched at his touch. He barely noticed as his finger followed the line of her jaw to her lips, then down her neck to the partially sealed wound on her neck, still dripping blood from the places he hadn't bothered to lick closed before he greeted his guests.
He dragged his finger through the blood, then raised it to his lips.
"I bet she wouldn't taste as good as you do, darling," Kevaster smiled, leaning forward, a faint whimper escaped her lips and Kevaster delicately cupped her chin, turning her eyes to face him, "Fear not, darling, I shall love you so much that you'll beg me to consume all of you".
Fresh tears sprung from her eyes as Kevaster leaned forward and kissed down her cheeks to the dip of her jaw, then swiped a tongue along her bloody wound.
He leaned back as he groaned at the taste.
"I suppose one day, I shall have to find my father and thank him personally for the ability to taste something so utterly divine," Kevaster grinned as he turned back to the woman, his fangs extending, "But for now, I'll just enjoy it how it was supposed to be enjoyed".
He sunk his fangs into her neck again, and the shadows swirled up and around them to drown out the symphony of her screams.