Watching the Shaboh through the window as the elf sat at his desk was like watching a rat scurrying through a maze. For all his training as a Sorceire, his mind was an open book. But then again, most mortal minds were.
It was a curious thing to learn that he was a high-ranking member of the Ignum. As mage hunters, they were a secretive lot, thorough and untouchable. They monitored Absion and addressed all things magical deemed a threat or contraband to the state.
Shaboh’s position within their ranks made him the perfect tool. The Ignum operated outside of Absion’s laws and, ironically, underneath the Inquisition’s noses. While their existence was known mostly through frightening tales and spoken of in whispers, the mere mention of them was enough to unnerve anyone.
Grasping the branch in his talons, Talyn noted how hard Shaboh was eying the letter. Stoking his hatred for Absion was easy enough. He had enough to hate its people for already. Promising to get his children back only stoked the fire even more.
On his own, he might have accomplished the task, given time. But how much of the nation would have seeped into his offspring’s way of thinking before then? That fear alone would have been enough, but pulling on such a base thread wouldn’t have brought about the same pleasure.
Inwardly, Talyn smiled. Such a lovely aroma, your hatred is, Shaboh, he thought to himself. I wonder it if will lead to your demise. He shifted his gaze to the marble buildings and bustling streets of Serindeth, then toward the massive wall surrounding the city. The Arcanum lay beyond, far to the northwest, as did his quarry. If only I had found you sooner, Cairn. You might have lived a normal life. I could have consumed your power and moved on.
His eyes glossed over, his focus shifting. Leif would wake soon. The ranger has spent all night hunting a particularly illusive thief from one of Absion’s dark guilds. While still amusing, He was becoming annoyance. The high moral horse he rode was becoming a nuisance. Worse, he was gaining a better understanding of their bond.
He took one last look through the window, noting Shaboh had put the document away, and held silver locket in his hand. The die is cast, Sorceire. You have the means you sought. Now I will simply wait for the seeds I’ve sown to mature.
Shaboh eyed the letter, his hands trembling. The seal on the top right corner of the letterhead depicted a pair of olive branches entwined around a scale. It was the mark of the Advocacy. The Servitor who delivered it had only just left. He took a calming breath and reread the letter:
To Sorceire Nel’Shay, from the Office of Personal Affairs and Acquisitions.
We regret to inform you of the untimely death of your distant relative Murellus Antonias. While the circumstances of his demise are still under investigation by the Inquisition, we have found no evidence of your involvement in this incident.
As such, and as the sole surviving relative of the House of Antonias, you stand to gain all holdings and assets therein. We will assign an Advocate to sort all the proper formalities and only ask that you wait for their final assessment. The State will govern your holdings until you can lay proper claim once the Inquisition’s investigation is complete.
Advocate Hadron Demelis
Shaboh sat back, his chair softly creaking. He shifted his gaze to the human skull resting comfortably atop one of the many bookshelves lining the wall of his office. The sorcerer had upheld his end of the bargain. The last legal landowner of his father’s had been ‘removed’. Not even the Inquisition could trace the crime.
It seems I win after all, Old Man.
The skull said nothing, its empty sockets staring blankly back at him. Shaboh sighed. Even dead, he could still feel his father’s condescending gaze whenever he looked into them. “Your estate belongs to me and your bloodline is in ruins,” the Sorceire sneered. “I can only imagine how horrified you would be to know a Shaylin, instead of a human, carries your name.”
The skull remained ever silent and Shaboh shifted his attention to the document, then to the silver locket laying on the desk. He gripped it, thumbing it softly between his fingers. “Hestia, I wish things could have been different for us and the boys. I’ll make him suffer. You’ll see. I’ll get our boys back. I have everything I need now.”
Shaboh closed his eyes, remembering his wife’s bronze skin and long, dark hair. He recalled how the palla contoured to her frame and the way her hazel eyes seemed to shine with life. Her skin was soft as the smoothest silk, and he tensed, recalling the warmth of her touch.
She was the daughter of Gaius Millas, a member of the Senate. They had met on one of his forays into the Senate on government business. While unable to enter politics herself, Hestia assisted her father by running errands and maneuvering behind the scenes.
Shaboh breathed deeply, recalling the sharp aroma of her perfume. It was lavender. A sharp pang struck him in the chest soon after.
The affair had been quiet. Her father had already planned her future for her, forcing them to marry in secret. Upon her pregnancy, there was no longer a way to hide the truth.
Gaius was livid, despite Shaboh’s spotless record within the military. He was further incensed upon learning Shaboh was part of the Ignum. To save face, he hid Hestia away from prying eyes until she came to term.
When Qaelin was born, Gaius’ rage grew. To his displeasure, his grandson hadn’t been born human, but Shaylin. Despite Qaelin’s given name, he insisted on the name Cyren, and filed falsified birth documents. As far as the Advocacy knew, Qaelin was born to one of Gaius’ servants.
Daeture was born two years later. Upon seeing yet another grandson born Shaylin, the Senator’s hatred deepened. Qaelin was only two at the time.
Through it all, the light in Hestia’s eyes never faded. Their glow was like the dawn and pierced the gloom cast by her father’s shadow.
You were so strong, my love, Shaboh thought. You stood against him to the bitter end.
Gaius became resigned to his bitterness, deciding his grandsons would become tools to further his own political agenda. He hired tutors to teach Daeture and Qaelin magic at a young age, taking advantage of their innate talent. He intended to ship them off to the Arcanum once they were old enough.
Hestia fought him, but he ignored her, citing the virtues of Absonian society. ‘It is your duty and privilege to serve,’ he often said. ‘My grandchildren’s power will ensure they rise in the ranks of the military. They will further our family’s honor.’
Then came the day he took Daeture’s eye. It was punishment for failing to pass one of his tutor’s final tests. Shaboh cringed, anger filling him. Gaius was still holding the knife when he lost himself and as they fought. Striking a senator was suicide, but outrage won over reason. Hestia had tried to stop them, only to find herself at the other end of the blade.
Shaboh fought back the tears, remembering how quickly the light faded from Hestia's eyes as he held her. He could recall it so clearly. As clearly as the accusatory look on Gaius’ face.
This is your doing! Her blood is on your hands, Elf!
Everything changed that day and with his connections, Gaius scuttled Hestia’s murder like a ship at sea. He kept the Inquisition at bay, for if they had caught wind of it, nothing would have saved him from a swift execution.
Shaboh folded the document, placing it in the desk drawer. If only you had stabbed me instead, Gaius, he thought. I could have brought the full weight of the Ignum against you.You would have disappeared into the night with no one to save you.
He shoved the memories of the past aside, turning his thoughts to the future. “Onehundred-fifty winters,” he whispered, looking up his father’s skull atop the bookshelf. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, old man.”
Shaboh closed his eyes, fatigue gripping him. “Cyren should be fifteen by now,” he mused. “And Daeture, you’ve probably grown like a weed.”