Chapter 1

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Claudin, he who was the first Emperor, gave to each noble who entered his Imperial Alliance the gift of dusang. So it was that every noble who sought to rise to the princely offices was required to survive the Trials of Dusang and prove their worthiness for the Sash.

From the Tales of Claudin

Louis was packing when the bluron bird found him, bearing its message of death. He had completed his latest mission with his target, the gem merchant, resting at the bottom of Karna Bay. The screech of the bird outside his window surprised him. He opened the shutters cautiously, thinking only to check who was receiving a message by bird. The bluron was perched on his windowsill. Its red eyes glinted dully in the morning light; it was hungry. The black beak gaped open as it scented Louis and it screeched again. It was a magnificent specimen. Its red and blue feathered wings were half extended and were a full armlength across. Its black talons grasped the windowsill with ease, leaving gouges in the wood.

Louis stepped backwards, giving the bluron space to step through. The bird awkwardly hopped into the room, ducking its white feathered head to get into the window. It landed clumsily on the bed and stared at Louis, its red eyes unblinking.

Louis sighed and unsheathed his dagger. The bird's blood-scent would not reset until he had fed it to match the blood that the sender had fed it. Bluron could find anyone whose blood they had consumed, it was why they were used as messenger birds by anyone who could afford the cost of rearing and training them.

The bird could have opened a cut in his skin with that beak, but Louis much preferred doing it with his knife. He sliced open a shallow cut on his left arm and sat down next to the bluron. Its mouth gaped open and the beak plunged toward the small wound. The sack-like lower mandible clamped onto the wound and the bird began to suck, its tongue tickling along Louis's flesh.

The assassin carefully unstrapped the wooden messenger tube from the bird's red-and-blue back. He set the messenger tube aside and detached the hood from the harness. The bird lifted its beak from the wound and Louis slipped the hood over the white feathered head.The bird taken care of; he turned his attention to the wooden tube. There was no sigil on the cylinder, but Louis's slender fingers found a small, raised mark at the bottom of the tube. A tiny snake, no bigger than his fingertip. A message by bird from Herself. He sat down on the bed and extracted the thin strips of paper tightly rolled into the tube. It was written in code, of course. He dug out his cipher book and started to decrypt.The final message made Louis check his work again. It was a stark command indeed.

Go to Somfaux and investigate rumors of sang sorcellerie. If the rumors hold true, deal with the situation as appropriate. Kill Baron Tybalt and destroy his name and line. None with a claim to his family may remain.

Louis read the short note again, then burnt both the coded version and his translation. He stared out of the window of his cheap inn room.


Somfaux, capital of the Vamelon Barony in Etendulat Duchy. The situation in Etendulat was tense. Just after the Festival of Berries that marked the summer season, news had arrived in Lumeaux that the Duke of Etendulat, Gaspard, had died in a freak river flood while out hunting. The ducal sash of Etendulat hung unclaimed with no certainty as to how a duke would be appointed.


For the first time in the nearly two thousand years, a ducal bloodline had failed. Before, even with no heir-apparent, one from the extended line who had passed the Trials of Dusang claimed the sash. This time, the line of Eten had failed. There were none who had passed the Trials and the Eten dusang would fade into the mists.


The Empire was not one of eternal peace, of course. Many barons scrapped with each other and sniped lands and rights to use lands. However, it had been decades since these conflicts rose higher than the level of the baronies. By custom, it counted as a greater victory if politics or the shadow arts attained the goal. If the matter of the Sash of Eten was settled with conflict, the Imperial Peace would be shattered as never before. The Duchies would ride to war.Etendulat's wheat fields were said to feed half the Empire. It would be a catastrophe if the harvest were lost to war. To ensure the safety of Etendulat's harvest, the Emperor's armies had marched to Iselra. To ensure that the Emperor did not simply claim the lands for himself, the Ducal armies of Tranchelag, Petiser, and Treval had marched to their border with Etendulat.And into this fraught situation, Louis was being sent to assassinate the baron of the richest trading hub in Lumiaron.


He grimaced. He did not want to go to Somfaux. The baron had a wife, and if he remembered rightly, a child. He did not want to kill a child. He wanted to return to the north. Rocaille's long summer days were already gone but her short autumn days were still beautiful. If luck was on his side, he would be home and settled before first snow. He wanted to enjoy the fleeting northern autumn days and be snug and warm during the long winter nights. But what he wanted had little impact on his life.


"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride," he said to himself, making peace with his plans being changed for him. Again.


He turned from his survey of Lumeaux and opened his travelling hat case. He had packed the hats for Lumeaux and the assassination of a merchant. For Somfaux he would perhaps have added a few more, but time was not on his side. The hats would have to do, the command had been sent by bird, the urgency was clear.

Investigate rumors of sang sorcellerie.


Louis shuddered and made the sign of the Wheel against his chest. It was a forbidden magic, one of the few laws that stretched across the entire Empire of Lumiaron. It was supposed to be a dead art, but there were always rumors here and there of trollkarls practicing the forbidden arts.If he was being ordered to investigate, it was more than just a rumor. Herself would not send him unless she believed there existed some truth to find.


There was nothing to learn by continuing to think on it. He would use the small crystal-cake of Herself's blood to acknowledge the order and send the bluron back. He returned to his packing; there was a long way to go and much to do.

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