AN: Well, my dear Readers, this is my first fanfiction story posted. A huge thanks goes to LongLiveTheClones, being my first reader and wise mentor, and Zoop being my patient and heartening beta!
If anyone cares about it: I do not own M.A.G.U.S. or any part of it, only my original characters.
The city woke to a rainy, grey dawn. It was as hopeless as any other during the month of Mist. The low-hanging clouds seemed to be boiling in the sky. A damp, cold wind howled among the bald trees, moaning and whining in the naked branches. Yellow, heavy heaps of dead leaves blanketed the paths of the palace-garden, absorbing the sound of the approaching group. The sky began to water again and painted the cloaks of the men a deeper black.
Rebeca could easily observe them from the height of the residential wing of the palace, through the window of her bed-chamber.
She had awoken from her restless sleep two hours earlier. The dim light of the lurking half moon had flown through the open window, together with the scent of dank moss. The girl, wrapped in her woolen blankets, had been staring at the carved ceiling for a long time. Human-faced birds and lithe mermaids looked down at her from the varnished oak. In the past, their enigmatic smiles always calmed her, but this time… she could not find any comfort in them.
Finally she got up, and put on her furred dressing-gown. She didn't call out for her chambermaids, choosing to tend the flickering fire in the great hearth with her own hands. And then she just leant on the windowsill and waited.
Now a new day was dawning. A day after which her life would never be the same: the day of her majority. This autumn – the sixteenth since her birth - brought her father, the Concitator of the Far-East Fleet, home. He came after three years of absence, and now he wanted to exert his will about the fate of his only daughter. Childhood was over for Rebeca, and the indistinct future was approaching as unstoppably as the six men down on the rain soaked garden path.
Her gaze followed the little group as they came along the empty pool of the garden pond. Their heavy boots splattered mud and water over path. Four of them were members of the palace guard, bearing the lion crest of the royal family on their long dolphin-hide cloaks. They flanked the other two men with evident signs of respect.
As they neared, Rebeca recognized one of the men leading the way. He was Sinistro, her father's advisor or secretary or ... she was not sure. The skinny old man walked with a stoop, his hands folded behind his back. Though his duty chained him to the side of the Concitator in the far East, he often visited the palace. Rebeca suspected the eastern lord watched and eavesdropped on his abandoned home through Sinistro's eyes and ears. In spite of his role, and her suspicions, Rebeca came to like the old man. His sunken, blue eyes watched the world with patience and tolerance. And not only the world, but the tentative steps of a girl wrestling with her fate in it.
The girl, who officially wasn't a child any more, smiled. She turned her brightened look to the sixth early visitor. He was a stranger. Striding with huge steps, a hidden sword lifting the frayings folds of his black cloak. The sheer size of his body threatened Rebeca somehow. He bent down and said something to Sinistro that Rebeca couldn't hear from such a distance. Before she could see his face hidden by his hood, the group disappeared under the foot of the living-tower. The gate closed behind them with a loud bang, the sound reverberating even above the wailing of the wind.
The daughter of the Concitator left the window and called for her chambermaids. It was time to face whatever fate Destiny - in the guise of her father - had in store for her.
Some time later, a few rooms away, Destiny gave a taste of its power…
The hardwood floored, unheated, seldom used room was cluttered with heavy, dust-covered furniture. Marble-faced, somber ancestors stared down from the tapestries hanging on the walls their opinions about their descendants an eternal secret. The hearth yawned empty. The grey light flowing through the narrow windows painted the already grey walls an even deeper grey. By the huge table stood two armchairs. Sinistro occupied one of them, wrapped in his long robe up to his chin. He motioned to the stranger to sit down. The guest could have protested the poor reception or the cold receiving room, but he was not one to demand unnecessary fineries. He was one who favored efficiency.
He pushed his hood back, loosed the clasps of his cloak, and threw the wet garment onto the table. He wore a pitch-black battle armour, the device of a wing-spreading griffin forged in silver on his breastplate. Rich waves of snow white mane poured over his broad shoulders. On his hip he wore a flaming sword. Though the sheath was the simpliest black leather, still… an icy shudder passed over Sinistro as he felt the latent magic in the blade.
The man sat down, his gloved hand reaching for the scroll turned up from Sinistro's robe. With evident impatience, he unfolded the sealed parchment and began to read. His angled, stony face became darker and darker…
„Is this … some kind of … mischief?" he asked hoarsely when finished reading. His gaze - as glistening, icy blue as a glacier in a frosty morning - unnerved Sinistro greatly. Throwing the scroll onto the table, the man clenched his fist.
„I can assure you, Your Exellency, this is not." Sinistro replied, pretending that he didn't understand. „Every statement in this document has been cleared during the long months of prior negotiations, and ..."
„For Weila's sakes, I am speaking about the clause! In whose clouded mind was this insanity born?"
The strange man jumped up, the floorboard creaking loudly under his weight. He moved easily, as if he were not wearing seventy pounds of metal on his body. Striding to the hearth, he picked up the bottle from the mantel. Ignoring the glasses, he yanked out the cork with his bare teeth and took a huge swig right from the bottle. The nearly mechanical ease with which he drank the spirit carved a deep furrow on Sinistro's forehead.
The man abruptly turned back, white tresses flailing around his head, his face contorted with fury. A wide, callused palm squeezed the neck of the bottle as if it were someone's throat. With narrowed eyes he leaned over the table, and Sinistro instinctively recoiled in his chair.
„Again. Whom can I thank for my luck?" His whisper was low and dangerous, the last word like acid.
„I do not think that it has any significance" said Sinistro in a high voice. When he looked in those glacier blue eyes, he felt himself on the edge of a volcano-crater, moments before eruption. With a soothing smile frozen on his face, he went on, „As … you can see from the signatures, the Emperor of Toron and the First Shadd of Ryek both agreed that the peace treaty can't be put into effect without the clause, and …"
„They may go to the Seventh Hell!" roared the giant man with an outburst of anger. He cast the bottle into the hearth with such force, the thick glass shattered into a million shards. He circled the room like a caged lion, rage boiling around him like the storm clouds over the palace.
Sinistro just waited with an inscrutable face, his freezing hands in the sleeves of his robe, until his guest calmed somewhat. Finally the man huffed, and with a bitter grimace he said:
„That cursed Empire… When it lived, it required my death. Now, when it is dead, it wants to resurrect at the expense of my life." He was silent for a minute, staring into space with a grim expression. „I am bound by my vow. It must be done. Does the … girl know?"
Sinistro shook his head with a heavy sigh. With every minute spent in his guest's company, he agreed with the man more and more. This whole thing was insanity.