An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Queen’s Wrath Tiberius

“I don’t care how you do it,” said the Queen, her quiet voice dripping with venomous ichor. “I don’t care if you have to tear the Realm apart stone by flaming stone. You will find whoever killed my son, and you will bring them before me so that I can slowly and methodically boil their entrails. Have I made myself clear?”

“Crystal clear, your Majesty,” replied Tiberius. “But would not one of your generals or the Master of Whispers be more suited to this task? I am but an old sage.”

“You were his tutor!” hissed the Queen. As she spoke, he could almost feel the heat of her fury on his face. “You knew Jayslen better than anyone. You understood his mind. More importantly, you know the Auratorch. They tell me your family is bound to it, that as long it continues to exist, your cursed blindness endures. Can you see my face, Tiberius? Has your vision returned?”

“No, your Majesty.”

“Then find the Torch. When you do, you will also find the one who killed my son and stole his birthright. Bring him to me.”

Tiberius wanted to explain that it was not so simple, that he could not feel the relic even when he and Jayslen had been in sitting in the same room. It had only been when the prince called upon the Torch’s power that Tiberius’ could feel his mysterious connection to the manacle, and even that was limited by distance. Unless the killer was within several leagues of the palace, it would require an enormous channeling of power for him to feel anything at all. And if that happened, it would almost certainly be too late for the poor fool.

And perhaps for the Realm of them too.

Jayslen had never known the true power that he carried around on his wrist. Ever since he was a small boy, Tiberius had been instructing him in its use, or at least that was the pretense under which he—like his father and grandfather before him—had operated. In truth, he had been carefully shaping the prince’s mind, implanting a series of mental safeguards into the boy’s thought processes. The intention had never been to control or manipulate Jayslen, but to prevent him from tapping into the fullness of the Auratorch’s power.

Now he was dead, and the relic had been transferred to another. Without the proper guidance, its new bearer could inadvertently release the fullness of its power. So, while Tiberius had no particular desire to satisfy the Queen’s thirst for bloody vengeance, he most certainly did intend to find Jayslen’s killer. If he moved quickly enough—and prayed for more than his fair share of luck—he might just be able to stave off a disaster of cataclysmic proportions. It was something that he would have preferred to do on his own, calling on his connections within the Society to provide him with the network of intelligence that he needed.

The sorceress Queen, it seemed, had different plans, plans that he was in no position to resist.

So be it, he thought. If the witch is prepared to lend me her resources, then I’ll make use of them as far as I’m able. It was a dangerous game to play with a woman who would not hesitate to kill him if she thought he was working against her, but Tiberius had spent his entire life dedicated to guarding the Torch and its bearer. He was not about to give up his entire life’s work just because Jayslen had gone and got himself killed.

“As you wish, your Majesty,” he said. “I will, however, require assistance.”

“Whatever you need, it is yours. I will also place the Master of Whispers at your disposal.”

“My sincerest thanks. I will prepare a full listing of what will be required, and have it delivered to you as soon as possible.” He sank to one knee—ignoring the stiff pain of every rebuking muscle—and bowed his head just enough to be deemed respectful. “If your Majesty will excuse me, I will set to work straight away.”

“Yes, of course. You are dismissed, Tiberius.”

He rose slowly and turned to leave, already making notes in his mind. Sending for his son Nathaneal would be his first step, then establishing a team of aides to be their eyes, in both the figurative and literal sense. They would also need to track down and interview anyone who had seen Jayslen in the past several weeks, and piece together a timeline of his movements. If they could determine where he had vanished to and his reasons for going, that would at least provide some context to guide their search. Lost already in the train of his own thought, Tiberius almost failed to hear the Queen call his name.

“Yes, my Queen?”

“This murderer who has taken the Auratorch, what are the chances that he will Bloom?”

“Provided he survives,” replied the old man, “it is not a matter of chance. It is an absolute certainty. If the bearer has no talent, it make take some time—weeks or months perhaps. Half a year at the absolute most. But their Flame will Bloom eventually.”

“And if they are already Flameborn?”

“Then the Nine help us all,” replied Tiberius as he left the room.

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