In the heartlands of Valtaria, one citadel reaches higher than all others. A thousand roads and riverways find their way to its base, and its eyries are home to flocks of giant eagles and savage drakes. It is here that the Grand High Imperatrix holds their Court.
In its innumerable banqueting halls, ballrooms, and balconies, Monarchs-Victor play the games of romance, intrigue and prestige. Monarchs-Errant make their debut there, vying for patronage and renown. Under diplomatic precepts, even Monarchs-In-Shadow may show their benighted faces and attend the Court as equals. It is a bejeweled whirlwind of splendor, vanity, and passion, and what is whispered there can have profound effects across the entire Homeworld.
The Grand High Imperatrix’s Court is likely to feature stories from the Monarchs of Valtaria, the Penitents that guide Monarch politics, and emissaries from other cultures.
The One That Got Away
featuring Carrion-Queen Vermillion, the Unrepentant; Conqueror-August Malagant, the Risen Pawn
by Hannah McKay
“My dearest of enemies.” Carrion-Queen Vermilion smiled. “It’s been far too long.”
“Three months, I believe.” Conqueror-August Malagant returned her smile, somewhat cautiously. It did not reach his eyes.
“Too long,” she repeated. “Especially after how you ran out on me last time. We still need to finish that chess match. Among... other things.”
“Yes, well.” He shrugged, a perfectly elegant gesture that rippled the silks of his garments like wind on a still lake. “I trust you will forgive my finding the airs of your dungeons... not to my tastes.”
The chess pieces lay scattered, the black queen standing alone on a board otherwise deserted. The chains were broken and empty. A familiar scent hung in the air – not Malagant’s, but another’s. Her rival’s scent.
Slowly, she turned towards the bed. The sheets lay rumpled, the rose petals scattered across them crushed. One of the posts had cracked. She could trace the imprints of their bodies across it, if she chose.
Instead she screamed in rage and blasted it with bitter flames.
“Oh, you know I could forgive you anything.” She smiled again, brightly. “That’s why I brought you a gift, my dear. To show I harbour no ill will towards you – or no more than normally, at any rate. Good enemies are hard to find, these days.”
The look of deep suspicion he shot her was, in its way, a compliment. She chose to take it as such, and passed the box she carried to the shaking hands of his companion without laughing openly.
“I have little time to linger here,” she told him, turning to go. “Open it at your leisure – I trust that you will seek me out thereafter to... renew our acquaintance.”
She stalked away without awaiting a response, and was almost to the arched door of the room when she finally heard the rustle of the ribbon from behind her. She allowed herself to pause, and smiled again, more broadly this time, remembering what Malagant would be seeing.
The red and black of the outer wrapping falling away to reveal the soft pale green interior of the box, fabric cut from the lining of a cloak that he would recognise. The few spots of blood, that she’d insisted not be washed away.
The skull within, emeralds set into the eye sockets, delicate traceries of gold adorning the curves of the bone.
The circlet of jade, carved with phoenixes, set one last time upon its owner’s brow.
And beside the skull, the black queen, a single rose petal caught on its base.
The clatter of furniture behind her; half-a-dozen frantic mortal voices calling out some variation on ‘my liege, the truce!’. A half step left. A bolt of lightning hissing past her shoulder and shattering one of the Imperatrix’s mirrors...
The Court fell silent. The Carrion-Queen turned, unhurried, still smiling. As if his voice had caressed her mortal name with the tenderness of a lover, rather than hurling it across the Court in rage.
“Malagant,” she answered him in kind. “Dare I presume that I now have your... undivided attention?”
He strode toward her, trailing companions and advisers vainly trying to hold him back while they still whispered of the truce of Court. The wand in his fist still crackled with unspent lightning; his garments blew about him in an unseen wind. Magnificent.
“If by ‘undivided attention’ you mean my UNDYING HATRED!”
The words shook the walls, rattled the windows. The mortals around them cowered. Vermilion smiled, and watched him come, unworried.
“Hatred is just the darker side of love, my treasured foe. Have you not learnt this yet? And in any case-” her chin rose proudly. “I will take either over your indifference.”
“So be it then.” He drew to a halt, close enough to touch, and she finally marked what he had carried with him in his off-hand while he stormed towards her. It was not the skull, she noted with amusement, but the black queen. “Prepare yourself for war.”