The EMPRESS OF SHADOWS
Empress Zhyan watched the battle unfolding from her throne, up the mountainside, as her personal guard, The Crimson Shield, engaged the enemy below her. But the enemy was no mere rebel scum. These were the ghosts of Imperial Legionaries, once commanded by Lord Oda, her own father – but now they had become corrupted mockeries of their former glory. Chaos was drawn to her. Or was it to what she brought from the mainland?
She watched as the spirits emerged from the ground, only taking substance as they reached out to strangle their former comrades. Her troops were breaking under the onslaught, their artillery useless against the wraiths, their swords only able to connect for a moment before their lives were snuffed out. It was turning into a rout, her elite, red-armored troops fighting desperately as they were ambushed from below.
She raised her right hand. In it, the small gold object began to glow. And soon a vast shadow passed over her, as the Empire’s most dreaded construct entered the fray – the Drakoliche. Its roar was the sound of metal splitting from the extremest cold. Its breath lanced down, a line of burning blue, and it incinerated everything it touched, living and dead. The Drakoliche turned, a huge and lumbering mass of darkness in the sky, its wings larger than galleons, its claws big enough to kill a Koloth herd with a single stab. It swooped, burned a line of blue fire, turned, and did it again, and again.
Odd, thought Zhyan, Oda always fought from the front line in life. She looked about, wondering if this was not his horde of specters after all. The Empress stood and descended from her throne, which had been placed on a massive platform in the middle of the command camp. Her servants and guards bowed to the ground as she walked forward, to get a bit closer to the battlefield.
“Father! I am here!” she screamed.
Then she saw her servant Kayn, his face frozen in surprise, as translucent hands reached out from the dirt below him, holding him in place. He pulled his blade free to fight, but the ground was now erupting with a flood of the ghosts, each clawing their way to the throat of her bodyguard. Kayn went down in a swirl of pale translucent forms, his own skin losing color as his life was drained by the devils. The Crimson Shield, too, was being attacked around her, and the terrified servants began shrieking as the wraiths emerged to drink their life.
Zhyan clutched the golden phylactery close, with her other hand drew Shadow from her robe, the blade a dark shimmer in the air. As the ghosts clamored their way towards her, the blade passed through them, and they dissolved in a wisp of shadow and fog. She was slashing left, right, whirling to meet them. Then she felt the air crackle behind her, and put up her blade just in time as Oda’s massive greatsword, Ender, came swinging down at her head. It caught on her shortsword Shadow, and the sound around Zhyan grew fainter and fainter as the Thill metal blade drank in the energy of raw Chaos.
“VILE TRAITOR.” Oda’s voice was omnidirectional, more a vibration in her bones than a sound. “YOU DID THIS. YOU DOOMED US ALL. YOU WILL JOIN ME NOW, MY DAUGHTER!”
Zhyan was being pressed down by the blade. The force of his will was tremendous. She dropped to one knee, one hand holding Shadow, the other clutching the Drakoliche’s phylactery to her heart. She could not see Oda’s face behind his greathelm – all that was left of the man was gone, except his desire for vengeance, the burning remnant of a once-noble warrior.
“No, father!! It… wasn’t… me!” Every word was an effort. “It was Aezher! He did this to you!” she shouted. She had to play for time.
“AEZHER IS GONE. I SAW IT MYSELF. YOU, TOO, SHALL SOON BE DEAD. YOU WILL ALL BE DEAD, AND YOU WILL ALL BE MINE.”
She dropped to her second knee, crumbling under the weight of his malice. The air around her completely dark now, and she could see and hear nothing clearly except Oda’s ghost, trying to kill her and undo the last hope of The Empire.
“I can bring you back! Listen… to me… father. I can bring you back!”
The force slackened on Shadow for a fraction of a moment, and she called on her personal demon, long dormant, for a burst of speed and strength, and dodged aside as smooth as a shadow.
The earth split when the blade hit where she was standing, and Oda lifted the sword to parry her counterattack – but Zhyan was not attacking him. She was running, faster than she ever thought possible, the demon in her soul on fire with the pleasure of being allowed to master her again, as it once did during her concubinage. Then a flash of blue, and the Drakoliche’s breath consumed all it touched, where her father stood.