That Devil, Observant

The streets were complete bedlam as phaerimm scuttled about, smashing in windows of every private residence they came to with their spindly, too-thin arms and setting upon the unfortunate Shadovar they found within using their hideous gaping maws or worse, the deadly stinger barb affixed to their tails that secreted their killing toxins. The shrieks of the High Prince's subjects were jarring but not distracting to him – they were background music, however unsettling. The sound didn't guide his steps. It seldom did.

Often he had to glance over his shoulder and bark a reminder to his eldest brother, for First Prince Escanor was easily distracted by the senseless slaughter of innocent Shadovar – but then, this was unsurprising, for this had always been Escanor's way. He was a credit to the Most High in all things that involved politics and diplomacy, and when it came to sheer strength of arm only Fifth Prince Clariburnus, the supreme commander of the illustrious Army of Shade, could best him. But the compassion that Escanor felt for all those around him was oftentimes quite irksome – especially in times of war such as these, when his idiotic empathetic tendencies forced those around him to become his babysitters. If there was anything that Fourth Prince Aglarel detested, it was coddling those around him.

For the most part his eyes were fixed to a singular focal point ahead of him, which he now judged to be less than a mile away – the Hall of the Arts Martial, which now they rushed toward with all haste. He had been one of only two of the Most High's sons that had been present in the Palace Most High when the phaerimm had begun to infiltrate the city's defenses, and the High Prince had given him the singular charge to meet up with Escanor as he charged through the streets alone after Soleil like Lancelot rushing to defend Guinevere. This decree Aglarel had followed readily enough, as always, though it irritated him that Escanor's thoughtless decisions were the reason Aglarel had been forced to leave the High Prince's side. Not that he feared for the High Prince in this instance, for Telamont was more capable than anyone else in all the Realms of dispatching a handful of unwelcome phaerimm – no, it was more a matter of duty and principle. For all the Most High's agents' talk of being closer to Telamont than any other, no one was foolish enough to believe it. Everyone knew without being told just who claimed that honor.

Aglarel's eyes swept the rooftops as he sprinted along and he at last caught sight of his quarry – Third Prince Lamorak, leader of the Determinist's Guild, and several of his retainers had fled from their place of office not long ago when the phaerimm force had proven too overwhelming for them to keep at bay, and now they were bound for the Hall where Clariburnus and Tenth Prince Rapha were commanding the soldiers into action in a desperate attempt to lend arms to the ailing forces that had amassed in the defense of the Church of Shar. With the ability to shadow walk denied to them – a trick of the lichdrow Lim Tal'eyve, Aglarel assumed – they had no choice but to traverse the rooftop catwalks on foot. Not that this was an issue – the Princes of Shade kept themselves in the peak of physical shape at all times, and almost never found themselves in a situation too adverse to overcome.

Several of the phaerimm in the streets below seemed to note the passing of the Third Prince and his small group of Determinists skipping along the rooftops overhead; in a symphony of awful, chilling shrieks and a flashing of cruel claws they began to scale the sides of the buildings nearest to their prey - coordinating their attack, no doubt, using their mysterious telekinetic language. Aglarel spared one last cursory glance over his shoulder for Escanor, who seemed to sense the imminent danger ahead of them and was at last settling into his warrior's focus, before picking up the pace, using his innate grace and dexterity to leap from rooftop to rooftop and steadily close the distance between the aberrations and their brother. Aglarel outpaced Escanor easily – his body was compact and agile, and he prided himself on his speed – and fell upon the first phaerimm unfortunate enough to be within his reach. The creature was smaller than its kin tended to be but no less bloodthirsty in battle, but it hadn't seen or heard his stealthy approach and had barely lifted its frail arms in defense before Aglarel set upon it with his enchanted dagger.

The dagger was his treasured weapon, and he made it a point to eliminate as many of the Most High's enemies as was feasibly possible with it. It had been one of the High Prince's gifts to Aglarel on the day he had become a shade; there were many powerful enchantments bound up in the blade, but his favorite of these was the vampiric property that allowed him to claim an enemy's vitality every time the weapon tasted that enemy's flesh. This energy Aglarel absorbed and used to regenerate his own body – often this wasn't necessary, as the Fourth Prince was a formidable adversary indeed in any combat, but there was something to be said for sapping an enemy's strength and adding it to your own. He felt the rush of life as it left the phaerimm and sped through the hilt of the dagger and surged into his own arm, and suddenly the weariness that had been slowly settling into his muscles all but melted away as his stamina was replenished by the phaerimm's stolen energy. He dug the tip of the ensorcelled blade in deeper, stealing every last mote of the phaerimm's life force and assimilating it into his own body until the creature had nothing left to give, and when it lay dead at the end of his blade Aglarel kicked it remorselessly away from him and took a private measure of delight when its carcass careened over the edge of the building and crumpled lifelessly to be trampled by its own kind hundreds of feet below.

The commotion had alerted Lamorak and his Determinists to the presence of both their foes and their allies, who made quick work of the few aberrations that had come scuttling up the walls in their direction, and with Escanor bringing up the rear Aglarel rushed ahead to take point with Lamorak close at his heels.

"It's good that you have come!" shouted the Third Prince as they ran, and though his fine Determinist's robes were riddled with tears from grasping phaerimm claws and holes from misfired spells he seemed to be mostly unharmed. "What news?"

"We've come from the Determinist's Guild," Aglarel explained, sheathing his dagger upon his hip. "It is now overrun."

Lamorak spared him an incredulous glance, which at first Aglarel did not understand until his older brother exclaimed, "But Soleil stayed behind to cover my escape! Is she – "

"Unharmed," Aglarel drawled uninterestedly, for he had never really understood the deep-seated fascination most of his brothers had for the waif. "Using her link she detected trouble in The Circle – it seems Lim Tal'eyve is the cause of this disturbance. She has gone to aid Brennus and Hadrhune against him – the Archmistress is there, and for whatever reason she seems to be the lichdrow's target."

"Doubtless the Spider Queen has charged him with eliminating her, as was the case not long ago in Neverwinter," Lamorak supposed, and that was the moment when Aglarel flung out an arm and caught his brother across the chest, thus stopping him in his tracks.

They had reached the last of the abodes in the Lower District before the commoner's housing gave way to the massive pyramidal structure that was the Hall of the Arts Martial. Damage to the Hall's exterior was extensive, and the southern section where the youngest warriors were housed was aglow with flames; squinting through the plumes of smoke wafting off the wreckage, Aglarel thought he could make out the familiar enchanted glaive that was the favored weapon of Fifth Prince Clariburnus. By the time Aglarel had confirmed this to be true Escanor had joined them, and they surveyed the devastation with calculating gazes and hands holding fast to weapons.

"There's nothing else for it," Escanor told them gravely, clutching his greatsword in both hands and gazing sagely toward the flames that by now had engulfed about one fourth of the Hall. "A frontal assault is our best option at this point. We haven't the time to prepare some great siege… There are too few of us, and too little time."

Aglarel said nothing; there was no dissuading Lancelot from his gallant charge. Instead he simply nodded his assent and led the way, leaping from the precipice of the private residence and into the fray.

The defenses that Clariburnus and Rapha had amassed around the perimeter of the Hall of the Arts Martial were formidable, but they were only tentatively holding; the phaerimm were swarming all over the brave militaristic forces that called themselves the Army of Shade, their claws tearing and their maws gnashing and their horrible foreign magic wrecking havoc on the more weak-willed soldiers among them. For his part Aglarel was seldom affected by attacks of this nature, and so continued to wade his way through the aberrations as he made his way toward the place where Clariburnus and Rapha, along with a dozen senior members of the Hall of the Arts Martial, had chosen to make their stand. He reached Rapha first, all the while cutting his way mercilessly through the phaerimm that dared to place themselves in his path, and the hexblade cast him an unappreciative expression along with a snort of disgruntled greeting.

"You're late," snapped Rapha viciously, even as he lopped the head off a lunging phaerimm, pivoted on his back heel, and skewered another one through its gaping maw.

Again, Aglarel chose to say nothing. Of all the High Prince's progeny, he despised Rapha perhaps most of all – the Tenth Prince's inherent impatience and his generally volatile nature made him, in Aglarel's eyes, unfit to serve the High Prince in even the most menial of tasks. Yet there was no denying that he was vicious on the field of battle, and Aglarel had long suspected that this trait was the one thing that kept the High Prince from banishing the impertinent little brute from the city altogether.

One voice echoed over the ruined courtyard then, belonging to the warrior to whom every Shadovar soldier was most beholden – Fifth Prince Clariburnus, supreme commander of the Army of Shade. He was leading a small counteroffensive even as he spoke, his glaive flashing as he activated its killing frost enchantment and his black glass armor cracked and flecked with the blood of his enemies. "Left flank, form up! The defenses must hold, on your lives! If you buckle, or if you flee, and I learn of it… suffice it to say there will be no place in this army for any of you!"

Aglarel moved then, flitting through the enclosing ranks of phaerimm like a ghost, and found himself at Clariburnus's side with his vampiric dagger in one hand and several poison-tipped throwing knives in the other. "The flank?"

"It's good you have come!" Clariburnus hailed him, seemingly unaware of the assassin's approach until he had spoken. As Aglarel watched his brother crouched beneath a flailing phaerimm arm, rolled beneath the sweep of a phaerimm tail, and stabbed his glaive down in between two of the hard grooves in the aberration's carapace and punctured the fleshy skin beneath; the unfortunate creature twitched at the end of the blade briefly before falling limp, and Clariburnus tore the weapon's tip remorselessly from the creature's back. "Rivalen sent a forward scout from the Church of Shar, who was able to report to me before his life was claimed by the phaerimm. The Church is overrun and now they have no choice but to evacuate or risk falling before the thornbacks. They are en route now."

Aglarel cut his gaze to the south, where the Church of Shar loomed over the Lower District like an overprotective parent always one step too near to an unwilling child. On the outside it appeared that the structure was intact and had suffered little damage to its exterior, but the smoke that billowed upward from the base of the church suggested that perhaps fighting there had wrecked more devastation than its appearance would imply. He couldn't help feeling a little surprised at the news that Second Prince Rivalen, as pragmatic as they came, had issued the retreat order when it was clear that their escape route would be smothered the instant he and his priests set foot out the door, but then he recalled from his brief glimpse into the world window in the Palace Most High that Sixth Prince Yder had also been present for mass when the initial attack had commenced. Yder was a Champion of the Faith, a holy warrior whose actions in battle were somehow guided by the Night Mother's will, and he knew that if there was any chance now of the Priests of Shar escaping with their lives all hope lay with Yder.

One shade against dozens of phaerimm seldom ended well.

"I will meet them," he told Clariburnus tersely, and his brother nodded once and hefted his glaive; Aglarel skirted around him, the tattered hem of his assassin's shroud trailing after him as he dashed beneath a lunging phaerimm, and he spared half a second of his precious time to slash the creature's tongue from its gaping maw as he passed before he was gliding noiselessly through the battlefield in the direction of the Church –

Suddenly for no reason at all the phaerimm began shrieking, their awful telepathic cries enough to scatter any rational man's thoughts for at least a handful of seconds, before one by one they were winking out of existence. Hundreds of the aberrations became dozens, dozens became handfuls, and then they had all vanished without a trace. Aglarel turned back to face Clariburnus, the nearest of his brothers, who was still clutching his glaive in both hands as though he half expected their foes to rematerialize at any moment.

Aglarel, a familiar voice whispered in his mind, and the Fourth Prince sank into his subconscious to better receive the will of the Most High. Return with your brothers at once to the palace. There has been a development… It is likely that soon I will have work for you.

At once, Holy Father, Aglarel responded obediently, and lifting his head he completed a quick scan of the battlefield. By that time Clariburnus had strapped his glaive into place diagonally upon his back and was approaching with a dumbfounded expression upon his face; a little further back Escanor and Lamorak were organizing the remaining soldiers and trying to get a better estimate of those who had been wounded, and a distant precession suggested that Rivalen, Yder, and the Priests of Shar were quickly closing the distance to the Hall. He set his gaze upon Clariburnus, who seemed to be awaiting further instructions. "The High Prince has commanded our immediate return to the audience hall – I presume that the sudden disappearance of the phaerimm means that the ability to shadow walk has returned to us."

He hardly saw the point in offering the same explanation to the rest of his brothers, instead stepping through a tear in the fabric of reality that separated the Material Plane from the Plane of Shadow; once there he breathed in deeply, grateful to find himself within the perpetual blackness of that dark realm, before setting off at once for the palace. The High Prince had requested his presence. Shar forbid he be made to wait.

Aglarel was unsurprised to find the audience hall empty when he peeled his body away from the thick curtain of shadows that always enveloped the chamber and admitted himself into the Most High's presence. The rest of the High Prince's progeny would allow themselves a cursory moment for idle conversation, a few seconds' worth of formulating their own theories and suppositions for what may have occurred to drive such a great number of their most hated enemies away so suddenly. Aglarel had no interest in speculation or pointless chitchat. He had only the capacity to hear his father's bidding and ensure that his will was carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible.

His place before the High Prince's throne was fourth from the right; he claimed it automatically and knelt down to the ground, his left knee braced against the ground bearing most of his weight, his head respectfully bowed and his eyes fixed upon the smooth black marble floor beneath him. High Prince Telamont wasted no time – most likely because he could sense the others were already en route to the audience hall themselves – in descending the short staircase that led to the dias on which his throne sat and tugging Aglarel back to his feet. Aglarel responded to his father's urgency in kind. "Impose your will on me, Holy Father."

High Prince Telamont was tall and slight, his frail appearance masking the terrifying power he was capable of. He had been the first of the Netherese archwizards to claim mastery over the eccentric and altogether foreign sect of magic known as the Shadow Weave, the dark art that the goddess Shar shared with only a chosen few she deemed worthy. Once long ago he had been known as Lord Shadow, one of the most prominent and prestigious leaders in all of Netheril, and he had been the only one strong enough to seek a temporary refuge for the city he commanded when the cataclysm known as Karsus' Folly had befallen their entire race. The Realm of Shadow, a lightless place that was too harsh for most surface dwellers to survive for very long, had become a sanctuary for those living within the displaced Netherese enclave called Thultanthar; there they had lived for seventeen centuries while Telamont fully committed himself and his loyal subjects unto the essence of the shadow, until his extensive knowledge of shadow magic enabled them to not only coexist peaceably upon that foreign plane but harness that dark energy into their very souls. Once Telamont had finally secured a way to return their city to the Material Plane the Netherese was a race much changed, and the Shadovar had been born in its place; here on the Material Plane, where their kind were both feared and revered, they were closer to gods than any other mortals that yet inhabited the Realms.

"I need time to better assess the situation," Telamont said brusquely, his platinum eyes veritably burning within his shadow swathed face. "What remained of Lim Tal'eyve seems to have been utterly destroyed, but we would be foolish indeed to assume that the story of the Anointed Blade of the Jaezred Chaulssin ends here. No, I think it is safe to say that we have not seen the last of that one."

Aglarel nodded obediently, considering. In truth he knew little about the undead drow who called himself Lim Tal'eyve, save that a prophecy set down by a fanatical sect of renegade male drow known as the Jaezred Chaulssin named him as the wielder of the sacred blade that would one day sever the Spider Queen's head from her body. He knew also that the drow's life had ended before those plans had come to any real fruition, that he had been reborn an undead emissary of Lolth and reshaped the hierarchy of the Bloodstone Lands, and that even his lichdom had been ended before he had accomplished anything of any real consequence to the Spider Queen. Now as Aglarel understood it the drow was becoming a threat yet again, only this time his machinations simply ran counter to the High Prince's interests. Aglarel knew nothing of Lim Tal'eyve and had no real grievance against him, but if he was an enemy of the Most High there was no better reason for the Fourth Prince to place himself directly between the dark elf and his ultimate goals.

"What do you require of me?" Aglarel asked softly, for now the shadows around the audience chamber were solidifying as several of the other members of the High Prince's esteemed Shadow Council began to join them.

Telamont clapped his son upon the shoulder briefly before moving past him, murmuring, "I require you, for now, to be vigilant on my behalf. We will talk more when all the others have gone."

Aglarel watched his sovereign cross the audience hall shrewdly from beneath the low-pulled cowl of his assassin's shroud, carefully assessing the High Prince's length of stride and attitude of gait with a practiced eye. Telamont's every step was slightly quickened and longer than he generally preferred to walk, and the tense set of his shoulders coupled with the intense crease in his brow only served to confirm that which the Fourth Prince already knew – his father was vexed not by what had already occurred, but by some decision he had yet to make or some situation he had already anticipated that he found to be less than favorable. When the shadows of the first of the council members to return to the palace had fully solidified, Aglarel understood what had the High Prince so agitated; Hadrhune, the Right Hand of the Most High and Telamont's chief shadow sorcerer, had returned with Soleil in tow, bearing the body of the woman Aglarel knew as Archmistress of the Citadel of Assassins, Aveil Arthien.

Telamont spoke in soft, harried tones with his chosen emissary before cutting his gaze Aglarel's way. "We will return to the medical wing. Send Rivalen to me the moment he has returned – let nothing deter him from joining me with all haste."

The Fourth Prince had no qualm with this and so bent briefly at the waist. "As you command, Holy Father."

He watched them depart without another word, shadowing their speedy retreat with his characteristic disinterest. Leave the rest of the High Prince's sons to form their own conjectures – Aglarel had never had any use for idle speculation, only truth. And the fact of the matter was that Aveil Arthien was about as dead as a mortal could get, but also that the High Prince was already working to divine a way to change her final fate if such a means was left available to him.

In life, Aveil Arthien had been little more than a thorn in the side of anyone who had the supreme misfortune of meeting her. Her rise to prominence in the less-than-reputable society that was the Citadel of Assassins had been promising, but it was also littered with her first sloppy attempts at betrayal and seduction – two arts that she had long since perfected and refined, Aglarel had to admit. She had arrived at the Citadel seeking refuge from powerful enemies and had found a useful ally in then Archmage Knellict, who had provided her with what he must have viewed as the necessary tutelage for her survival. Her innate mastery of all magics of the ice property, coupled with an uncanny affinity for the school of psionics, had eventually made her a threat to the Archmage – she had murdered the man at the first feasible opportunity, if memory served. Afterward she had claimed Knellict's lofty mantle as her own and taken to the road – where in one fell swoop, it seemed, she managed to topple a fearsome elder fang dragon, aid in the uprising of the Jaezred Chaulssin, and ultimately land herself on the wrong side of Lim Tal'eyve. The details of her life thereafter became a little hazy for Aglarel only because he simply didn't care enough to become well versed with them, but she had placed herself in Thultanthar's way shortly after the High Prince's most recent birthday celebration had gone awry by admitting herself into the city completely unannounced and taking up arms against Hadrhune. Aglarel had been particularly furious with her arrival, for as the head of the High Prince's security and the one Telamont charged with the upkeep of the city's defenses it had spelled a grievous error on Aglarel's part. So Aglarel had gritted his teeth and shouldered the blame without complaint – what was the point in arguing when it was clear that he had failed? – before doubling the strength of his security countermeasures, cursing the impertinent snow elf all the while.

She had committed the same gross disregard for their entire society just days later, and bypassed the security measures a second time. This had been especially infuriating for Aglarel for two reasons – the first of which being that he had been punished quite severely for his oversight, the second of which being that he knew beyond the shadow of any doubt that the wizard had barely broke a sweat slipping through defenses that had taken him hours to lay.

Predictably enough she had landed herself in the High Prince's dungeon awaiting a single testimony that would either ensure her safety or utterly condemn her beyond redemption, and there they had finally had the opportunity to exchange words. Despite her complete disregard for the natural order of things and her near-constant meddling in affairs that were far beyond her, Aglarel had always been quite taken with Aveil – he found the petty concerns of lesser creatures rather amusing, after all, and so had housed her whilst she had landed herself in a meaningless squabble with Hadrhune. That had been just hours ago – now all that remained of the Archmistress was a quickly-cooling corpse and a host of questions whose answers, Aglarel supposed, would soon rank at the top of his priority list.

Near the end of his musings Aglarel found that Escanor, Rivalen, Lamorak, Clariburnus, Yder, and Rapha had all made their way back into the audience hall; Escanor was wearing an expression of confusion so comical that Aglarel had to fight the urge to roll his eyes skyward. Did the First Prince really think that the Most High had nothing better to do than to cater to him every time he set foot in this domain? Though they all raised questions at his approach, Aglarel had eyes only for Rivalen – who, though unnecessarily pious, operated on a similar wavelength most of the time.

"The Most High has summoned you," Aglarel told him tonelessly. "He awaits your swift return in the hospital ward."

"I will go at once," Rivalen agreed, and Aglarel couldn't help feeling grateful for his older brother's no-nonsense attitude – no quandary, just acceptance and obedience, the only logical way to respond to any command from the High Prince in Aglarel's opinion. Soon after Rivalen's departure the rest of the Shadow Council finished gathering in the semi-lightless audience chamber; knowing that the High Prince's business would likely take several hours, Aglarel contented himself with being as unassuming as possible in one corner of the chamber and observing the actions of those around him.

What struck him as most interesting was the reception that his youngest brother, Brennus, and his new favorite pet, the doppelganger Phendrana, received upon their untimely arrival as the last two in the hall.

Unlike almost everyone else that resided within Thultanthar, Aglarel had somehow avoided formulating a soft spot for the youngest of the High Prince's sons. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate Brennus and his constant diligence in restoring the grandeur of the Netherese Imperium – it was more that Aglarel always felt disappointed and quietly furious at the prospect of such a bright young mind with the potential to become the next great ruler of their all-powerful society had all but thrown away his chance to further the High Prince's noble bloodline in favor of his own lifestyle choices. He supposed it was to be expected of Brennus more than anyone else – after all, with more wisdom than perhaps the rest of Telamont's progeny combined and the favor of the general public ever at his disposal, any willingness he may have exhibited for producing grandchildren for the fabled Lord Shadow would have all but secured his path to the throne.

Perhaps his so-called lifestyle choice was all a ruse, a clever farce the High Prince himself had ordered his youngest son to practice to ensure that the rest of the Princes of Shade never felt that their own ascension wasn't so far out of reach. If that was the case, Aglarel mused, it was indisputably the most elaborate bid for encouraging rivalry anyone had ever concocted.

More interesting still was observing the way the High Prince's newest collector's item, the doppelganger Phendrana, was assimilating into Shadovar society. He still moved with uncertainty in his steps and he still spoke only when spoken to, but despite these characteristics it seemed the Most High's more empathetic sons had already accepted Phendrana into their fold. Aglarel knew little of the doppelganger and cared even less to hear of his origins – all he really knew was that Phendrana had done the High Prince some great service or two, and that now the Most High was interested in rewarding the doppelganger with the precious gift of the shadow for his very own. Still it was painfully obvious in the way that the doppelganger fawned over Brennus that the two had already entered into some kind of perverse personal relationship – or at least if they hadn't yet, they would be soon.

It made Aglarel want to roll his eyes and sigh in exasperation. There was no place in the High Prince's court for such trivial matters, in his opinion. How did Telamont's closest subjects find time for such meaningless pursuits while still devoting the necessary amount of time and care to his affairs? He wasn't sure, but he did know that just considering such behaviors was mentally exhausting.

He continued to watch and listen, saying nothing, preparing his comprehensive report for the High Prince the moment his sovereign asked for it, until inevitably one of those who had been attending on Telamont returned to the audience hall to address the group at large. Aglarel was unsurprised to find that the High Prince had sent Soleil – Rivalen would be needed for obvious medical reasons, and Hadrhune's growing attachments to the now-deceased Archmistress would undoubtedly keep him tethered to her side at all times.

Those nearest to Soleil converged upon her almost at once, all but shouting questions for her to answer; Aglarel edged one step nearer, afraid in the ruckus that he would miss just what she had to say.

"Aveil Arthien lives," Soleil told them, her voice exasperated, her features dull and tired. "Though I know not how."

This statement was met with a veritable uproar. Escanor eyed the young girl with a mixture of confusion and disbelief, as though wondering at the sanity behind her words; Lamorak, Rapha, Melegaunt, and Yder all exclaimed aloud in shock and something akin to rage, and Phendrana and Brennus exchanged a gaze that may have been concern. Aglarel felt his eyes widen at the mountebank's words but otherwise did not allow himself to physically react in any way, though inwardly his mind was reeling. He had been expecting to hear of Aveil's speedy resurrection – doubtless the Most High had intended to grant her life as a gift, for all that she had done for Thultanthar during the phaerimm invasion – but to find that her return to the living world had not been expedited by the High Prince's charity but as a result of some outside force was very unsettling. He expected that this unforeseen turn of events would be the focal point for his meeting with the High Prince, though what part he would be expected to play he couldn't even begin to guess.

"You mean to say that her resurrection was not brought about by the High Prince?!" Rapha roared, and this time Aglarel couldn't help but roll his eyes to the heavens. For all his bluster, the Tenth Prince of Shade seldom thought before he spoke – the result often made him look foolish, and nearly always landed him at odds with someone.

Soleil fixed him with a withering look, a clear sign that she didn't appreciate Rapha questioning her intelligence. "Do you not suppose that if the Most High was responsible I would have mentioned as much? The cause is unknown to us. Even the High Prince is baffled by her sudden recovery."

"But…" Eleventh Prince Melegaunt passed a hand across his eyes, looking tired and harassed. "Surely the Most High has some idea as to how this came about…?"

"Please," Soleil begged them earnestly, for it was clear that she was at the end of her patience and fatigued beyond words. Not that Aglarel could blame her – she was human, so helpless and human, and incapable of the great feats of strength and stamina the High Prince often entrusted her to accomplish. "If you take issue with what the High Prince has charged me with announcing, I urge you to take your concerns up with him. It is above my station to divine what the High Prince may be thinking at any given time."

"Well said, Soleil," Escanor congratulated fondly, and he ruffled her hair with one hand as he smiled down at her nostalgically. "I daresay you have earned the right to rest now – I cannot say what the High Prince will wish to do from this point forward, but I am sure he will inform us all of our duties regarding this matter as soon as he is able." The First Prince straightened, and all those present hearkened to him – even Aglarel, who was bound by the hierarchy of the Princes of Shade to obey him in all things when the Most High was not present. "I think now would be a good time for all of us to disperse – this day has been taxing on us all, and we will not likely find our answers tonight. Ensure that you attend the morning council session tomorrow, for I expect we will be talking of the many reconstructions the city will now need – as well as our plans for paying the phaerimm back in kind for the havoc and devastation they have wrecked upon Thultanthar. If you have duties to see to this night by all means see to them, but afterward I pray you – find some rest. We will undoubtedly need it in the days to come."

His dismissal of them would have been sufficient, but as if on cue the great double doors leading into the audience hall cracked open then to admit Second Prince Rivalen; Aglarel was hoping to glean a little more of the truth from his older brothers' expression, but Rivalen's face was impassive and he gave nothing away. "You are all commanded to disband," he ordered them, "by the express wish of the Most High. For those of you who have lost your homes in the phaerimm attack, the High Prince has generously offered you several of his private rooms as recompense for your sacrifices, and has decreed that you be allowed to reside within the palace until such time as your homes have been reconstructed. He also bids you all to attend tomorrow morning's council meeting, for he has much to share with you all. For now, though, he bids you all goodnight."

Rivalen excused himself without another word, exiting the same way he had come; Aglarel suspected he would return immediately to the High Prince's side, for certainly he was inspecting the newly resurrected Archmistress for signs of foul play. Aglarel had already formed his own private opinions on what he supposed had transpired to restore Aveil to life, but as always he chose to withhold his suppositions until he received the real truth from the High Prince himself.

Fortunately, Escanor seemed to be in his element. "It would be best if we issued a citywide curfew in all districts until we can be certain that the breach in the city's security will not be repeated; I will make the announcement myself, before I return to the Hall of the Arts Martial and organize our forces there into patrols. I think it would be best if the Army of Shade kept an eye on the streets at least for tonight – I am certain it is what the Most High would want. Clariburnus, will you rest, or will you come along?"

Clariburnus looked haggard indeed – of all those among them, he had sustained greater injuries than perhaps anyone else – but he shouldered his glaive readily enough and moved to join his oldest brother uncomplainingly. "I will go along and ensure that the patrols are running smoothly before I retire - it would be unjust of me not to participate in the patrols. The Army of Shade has long looked to me for guidance, and I will continue to honor their pleas for leadership."

"Yder," barked Escanor, turning at once to Shar's Champion of the Faith, "what will you do now? It is likely that Rivalen will be occupied for quite some time, until the High Prince has determined the cause of the Archmistress's sudden recovery."

"I will return to the church and organize the priests on Rivalen's behalf," Yder decided, straightening his shoulders and shrugging the fatigue out of his muscles. "I am certain the High Prince would want us to conduct a prayer to the Night Mother, thanking her for our victory over the phaerimm and for ensuring that the loss of our subjects was not as devastating as it could have been. Your curfew will keep the commoners from visiting the church and partaking of our divinations tonight, but see that they are free to attend all masses tomorrow so that they may attend to the safeguarding of their souls. Doubtless they will want to thank the goddess themselves for her never-ending mercy."

"I will see to it," Clariburnus promised, then he, Escanor, and Yder all shadow walked out of the audience hall.

As Third Prince Lamorak was next in line to organize those who remained, he took up delegating the moment Escanor had departed. "Mattick, Vattick, Dethud, Melegaunt, return at once to the Shadow Mages College and locate all the healing measures you have stored away – even the ones you reserve for educational purposes. This includes potions, alchemical ingredients, scrolls, wands, rods, staves – anything you can spare. The casualties we have suffered this night are extensive, but if you act with haste we may yet be able to save some lives."

"We will begin concocting healing elixirs in mass quantities right away," Mattick assured, and he and his twin vanished in two wisps of shadow vapor. Dethud and Melegaunt were quick to follow suit.

"It would be best for you," Lamorak snarled in Rapha's direction, "to offer your services to Escanor and Clariburnus as they organize the patrols. They will need every strong arm they can gather in the event that the phaerimm return for a second retaliatory strike."

Rapha said nothing, but bowed curtly and departed.

Brennus took a small step forward. "With your permission, I would like to return the books the High Prince allowed me to borrow regarding the history of the Dracon to the Grand Library. Phendrana and I managed to secure them so that the knowledge contained within them did not meet the phaerimm's eyes, and I am certain the Most High would like to see them returned safely to where they belong."

Lamorak nodded once. "I am sure you are right." He turned then to Soleil and Phendrana, who looked both guilty that they had been left out of the proceedings and half-exhausted from the day's many events. "You two I will dismiss for now – it is better that you rest than further exert yourselves. Were you of the shadow I would still have further use for you, but as you are not I think it best you retire. Make yourselves available to the High Prince's whim tomorrow, for I daresay he will have further use for you when you have rested."

Soleil and Phendrana murmured words of gratitude as Brennus beckoned to them and led them out the same doors that Rivalen had exited through, presumably as he saw to the doppelganger's comfort on his way to the library. As they were departing Lamorak at last looked Aglarel's way; the assassin had at last shoved away from the wall and was moving forward with purpose in his steps, prompting Lamorak to ask, "What will you do? Will you retire until the High Prince summons you?"

Aglarel scoffed as though the mere suggestion was ludicrous. "I haven't time to rest. The admission of the phaerimm into the City of Shade is a gross violation of the security statutes that I myself am charged with upholding. Until such time as I can be assured that another breach is next to impossible, I will be strengthening the enclave's protective enchantments."

The door eased shut behind Brennus, Phendrana, and Soleil as Lamorak nodded his approval. "I suppose I will return to the Determinist's Guild and assess the damage there – it would not do to lose the implements we have in place for conducting the Determining, for it would displease the High Prince perhaps more than anything else. Then I will join our brothers at the Shadow Mages College, and aid them as best I may." There was a brief pause before the Third Prince added, "You will summon us if we are needed?"

"The moment the High Prince wishes it," Aglarel muttered by way of agreement, and the moment Lamorak had dissolved into shadow the Fourth Prince of the City of Shade departed the High Prince's audience hall himself to see about the city's protective enchantments.