neurula

Before.

They had not crossed paths. By the time she had arrived on Centaur B, the royal family had been dead, each one transmogrified into balls of clay or excrement, she knew not which, their lives traded away from the new authority of Yodonheim's black sun. The revolution that had been seeded on the planet, the inspiration given that had paved the way for the assassination of the monarchy and opened the door for the forces of Yodon had collapsed in the face of an invasion; now, all that they need do was consolidate their control, sweeping away the ashes of those who had fallen before their might.

Her boots crushed gravel and stone beneath her as she advanced up the path towards the tarnished marble pillars of the former palace, limestone and plaster now awash with alien blood. It meant nothing to her, her dark eyes looking out from beneath the fringe of her silver hair, and yet she was unnerved that twice now this had happened, and twice now she had failed to cross paths with the Emperor's proud executioner, the sinister assassin, Shadon.

She stopped, turning on the path to look at the large, blood red sun as it set on the horizon beyond the curious trees of the royal gardens, needles of a fine metal that shimmered and sang when touched by the wind. Her lips twitched with displeasure. It unnerved her that she could not vouch for the other's intentions. There were a number of bounty hunters employed by Yodonheim, galactic riff-raff whose only ideology was that of whomsoever paid their bills; one such creature she had met in hand-to-hand combat on distant Ord Mantell, slicing the creature into a thousand pieces during the course of their duel, tearing out the optics from its metal face. The galaxy was not lacking in assassins and guns-for-hire whom the Emperor could call unto his aid upon a world like Centaur B, and, as such, it disturbed her greatly that he would summon this shadowy henchman of his whom seldom few had ever truly seen.

Once more, she turned her thoughts back to the days before she had come into the Emperor's service, days that seemed so distant now, days when she would ride with her own thralls across the midnight sky, when she would scry the knowledge of the runes and the stars. Such times felt so distant now that it was almost as if she had dreamt them, almost as if the only role she had ever known had been at the side of her dark master.

She shook her head. That was not so, she was her own person, she knew this, and the Emperor was a constant enigma, a source of mystery who had lured her into his service with promises of hidden secrets and unspoken whispers. Of course it made sense that he would keep in his employ such hidden and mysterious employees as his royal executioner; of course it made sense that his plans were far greater than even she could guess at.

For now, she thought, a smile touching her lips. She might not understand now, yet one day, she would, just as she had made her sacrifices once before, gaining knowledge of cures and storms, of runes and poetry, her ravens watching over all in place of the eye she had lost.

Instinctively, she reached up and touched her face, feeling the new eye that the Emperor had fashioned for her, the eye that joined her with him, the eye that sometimes she feared he could also see out of. What would he say, she asked herself, if he too could study such a scene as this, the bloodied sun, the sturdy trees with their metal blossom.

"Nothing," she whispered, her lips quivering with distaste.

And it was true, he would feel nothing; the Emperor felt nothing.

She sneered, tilted her head, and turned away, marching forward once more upon the gravel and broken stone towards the lonely, empty royal palace. Hundreds of years in the future, when next the Emperor whispered in her ear, when next he summoned forth Shadon, she would not recall these quiet moments at the end of Centaur B's long, storied history—and yet in her heart, somewhere, the recollection of that setting sun would remain locked forever.