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City of Lundun, province of Brittania, United Empire.
27 Janvier, 3.021 AGD
In Silas Marrack’s opinion—which concurred with the prejudices of his fellow mages—scientists were idiots. Scientists had long ago decreed the lethal Lundun fogs extinct, yet here he was bumbling around in one. When he’d departed Whitehall, tired but satisfied with the day’s events, the night had been clear. He’d been so immersed in his thoughts he hadn’t noticed the weather change, admittedly a bad habit but one he couldn’t seem to change.
The crowning of a king was a long and tedious affair. It required ceremony and diplomacy and the ability to ignore self-important officials jostling for position in the Grande Promenade. Not to mention a complete lack of facial expression—as well as appetite—at the banquet table, where he’d been seated between High Priestess Gwendolyn and the Duchess of Versailles. They’d hated each other for decades and had continued their quarrel across his increasingly anxious self, each remark so sweetly deadly he’d fully expected them to push back their chairs and have at it with forks and knives. Of course, that couldn’t be allowed, not on such an auspicious day. He’d handled them with his usual tact and humor, but his nerves might never recover from the ordeal.
His duties finally done, he’d breathed a sigh of relief and escaped into the quiet of the now deserted streets. He’d elected to walk, to stretch his muscles and allow himself time to think.
Richard V’s death had raised a minor stumbling block to his plans. Richard had been his strategist, privy to every bit of information Silas himself knew. Robby was so young, so untried. It was difficult to know just where his strengths lay. But Robby was now Robert III, King of the United Empire, and his liege. He would have to bring him up-to-date. Robby didn’t lack brains and his courage had never been faulted. It was his lack of experience that worried Silas.
The damnable fog made it difficult to think. He’d walk into a brick wall, if he weren’t careful. He paused, trying to pinpoint his location. Where the hell was he? The Collegium was a stone’s throw away from Whitehall, depending on who was throwing the stone, of course. The road was relatively smooth and straight, except for that sharp turn to the left. Had he missed it and wandered into Old Towne? Surely he’d have noticed the lack of pavement. He scuffled a booted foot and felt the curve of cobblestones. Blast. He’d wandered into Old Towne.
Slowly he realized something was amiss. Perhaps he ought to cut the scientists some slack, because this wasn’t a natural fog. There was the faintest taint of rot, so faint it had escaped his notice until he’d cleared his mind of quarreling dignitaries and begun to concentrate.
The skitter of claws on cobblestones. Head cocked, he listened intently. A high pitched mutter grew into a shrill chittering, invoking visions of madness and pain. The insane chorus completely surrounded him. Interesting…the Other Side, always capitalized in his mind, had never offered such blatant opposition, not for years, perhaps centuries. They tended to be sneaky; he couldn’t remember one occasion when they’d directly confronted him.
This was an annoyance indeed, and perhaps an indication he was on the right track. He muttered a Word of Power. The wall of fog surged back as if shocked, clearing a sizable circle around him. His formal red robe took on a silvery sheen as his shields manifested. He widened his stance and waited.
Whatever was out there was not friendly.
He had only himself to blame. He’d become complacent and, it seemed, dangerously lax. Could it have been deliberate? Had his enemies hoped to lull him into carelessness by ignoring him? Had they figured out his plan? He’d been so careful, but he was only human despite his power. He could have messed up somehow. He thought of his chess pieces and the game about to start. This confrontation suggested the enemy knew or suspected something was afoot. Cut off the head and the body would die. Cut down Silas Marrack and the whole world would die.