"In the beginning, we had them under our control. We stopped them from dreaming. We stopped them from breeding. I confess, it was I who began to stockpile the black-ringed mushrooms. I am the reason he was able to reach her once more. And, that light four and a half years prior, I was the one who let business get in the way of my duty. I should have prevented it, or at least seen it and reported it. Instead, we curb them for war. I mistook them for people, when all they should be are tools. By the end, may you forgive me, Eissa. The Goddess grew mad at us."
-- Excerpt from The Rising of the Silver Kiss
by Lady Kagaelle de Fleyune (executed - treason)
Unpublished Alternate Text
Cebileiss, the City of Crossroads, held the second highest population in all the Kingdom of Eissa. It was as a fortress within a fortress within a fortress; catacombs upon catacombs upon catacombs. Many times, some lost in legend, it had stood the test of time. It was a city built for war, that thus lived the better part in peace.
The city thrived greater now than in the last few centuries, perhaps greater now than ever. This was because Browlen IV, the Faceless King of Eissa, had moved the throne from the Port of Fleyune to the onyx walls of Cebileiss.
The Black Castle had become a pretentious display of aristocracy and militarism. New banners marked its walls, and a new song was birthed from its trumpets. Times were changing.
The security had become stricter. The semblance of a young man stood upon the drawbridge, with mild impatience etched across his brow despite the smile upon his lips.
The water was calming. It was deeper and darker than he imagined it would be. And every so often, he could see scales shining dozens of feet below him. They moved in patches, sticking to the shadows. Eating a city's garbage. Creatures of dark seas and lonely coves.
One guard stood at the chain to open the entranceway. The other had gone.
"I see them, below me. Circling in case I fall. Creatures of the deep."
"I've spent countless shifts here," she answered, leaning upon her spear. "There's nothing in those waters. There should be, but there isn't."
The young man gave her a one-cornered smile, "You have not the eyes with which to see them."
The guard frowned, and then looked away.
The other returned, with a servant assigned as an escort. All three of these women wore the black and gold finery of the palace, eyelids shadowed by the imported blue clay of Seballe.
Guste d'Arean made eye contact with his escort.
She was unsettled by him. The black top hat was long since out of fashion. His hair was a very pale green, downright inhuman. The eyes scared her the most, as they were so white that they nearly seemed to shine around their black core. Luckily, she could not see the budding antlers that grew beneath his hat.
Humans, he thought. They fear the unknown.
"Sir, am I to take you to Lady Kagaelle?"
"Affirmative," Guste answered, in an accent they'd never heard.
A chain was pulled. Crisscrossed, bolted, spiked bars rose. Paths were followed. Handles turned, hands knocked and doors opened. And Guste d'Arean did not bat a single white lash at the extravagance he saw.
All for a job. All for an amusing vagrancy.
He was led into a new wing, where the onyx blocks and obsidian sculptures were not to be found. He knew he was approaching one of the brown towers.
At its base, she left him to ascend by himself, "The fifth doored level are her quarters. If she is not there, check the sixth. When you are done, wait here and ring the bell until I come."
Left to himself, Guste rushed his way up a staircase that spun around the edge of the tower's rooms. He paid no attention to the paintings on the wall or the view out the window. City art lacks soul, he thought.
The fifth door came, long before his legs were tired that day. He put an ear to the thick wooden door, heard nothing, and kept climbing.
A dark green cape trailed behind him, and leather boots struck quick against stone steps.
A tiny bird at a window's ledge saw him, looked him in the eye as he passed, and thought better of flying away.
At the sixth door, a level above, Guste d'Arean knocked twice, paused, and then knocked thrice more.
The bird chirped.