"Well, as I said, the Sorcerer learned a valuable lesson from his experience with the Niälla. Thereafter, he didn't create any other being powerful enough to pose a substantial threat to the natural order of things. The few scattered races remaining after the departure of the Niälla—particularly those who bore any trace of blood relation to the traitorous half-gods—were swiftly made to understand their place.

"However, one race—who'd shown due difference, loyalty and usefulness in during this trying time—soon rose above the others in his favor. They were known then as the Sun's Children, for they dwelt in the golden lands of the south-west. They were superior in many ways to the Sorcerer's other subjects. In time, they became The Sorcerer's treasured companions, his loyal servants—his chosen people. It must have been a great joy to one so lonely as he, to at last find love and obedience in his creations, instead of deceit, ingratitude and insurrection."

Thesul paused to grimace, as if he'd just bitten into something rotten, then continued, "To show his appreciation, the Sorcerer built his chosen people a glorious city, and showered them with gifts. Riches, beauty, prosperity, a land that never withers... and, last but not least, the fountain. When he began to spend more time away from this land, he chose his guardians—his Magus—from their ranks and gifted them with magic like his own; though, of course, they bore but a fraction of his own power. In this way, the Sun's Children became the keepers of Ther. They were not chosen for blood, but for merit. They did not inherit their right by simple birth, but earned it through diligence and trust. They were deemed worthy, Guin, by the highest power in this world. You can only imagine the envy of the Sorcerer's other creations..."

Thesul sighed and shook his head sadly.

"As you may have surmised, the Sun's Children were my ancestors. The first inhabitants of what would come to be known as Alavard. It is through them that I inherit my right to Ther's high-throne. While he still lived, the Sorcerer continued to judge myself and my people worthy of our place above the rest of his creations. Our loyalty has never faltered. We kept this land in order, and saw it prosper by our hand. It is to us that Ther owes what little civilization it now possesses. Before we took the helm of this world in the Sorcerer's stead, people were little more than savages running about the fields and valleys. And now you see how we have been rewarded for our diligence..."

Guin interrupted him by loudly clearing her throat. "Sooo you're saying, basically, that since a homicidal old blighter put you in charge of bullying everyone else in existence, plus you're hot and good at boot-licking, you should be allowed to continue being in charge now he's gone?" she asked. "Sorry, just not seeing the logic here."

For the first time, Guin saw Thesul's carefree, boyish smile slip a fraction of a notch. He gave her a long, silent look with his dead eyes, then ran a red tongue over his lips and forced the smile back into place.

"I believe you are testing me, Guin," he said quietly.

"Huh," Guin said, matching his gaze with her own. "That's funny, because I believe you're full of sh—"

With the speed of a flying dagger, Thesul leapt from of his seat and across the table in one fluid bound and landed in a crouch, his feet planted on either side of Guin's empty plate. He loomed over her, a beautiful gargoyle sculpted from flawless marble.

Guin let out a strangled yelp. Then, before she could stop herself or even think beyond instinct, her hand shot out and buried the table knife in his chest.

For an instant, time seemed to stop. Guin watched herself sink the blade into Thesul's smooth, pale flesh. He frowned and glanced down at the handle sticking out of him. Then, still frowning like a man who'd just spotted a fly on his jam and toast, he returned his gaze to Guin.

They stared at one another for a solid minute as blood slowly saturated the pristine fabric of Thesul's shirt.

Finally, he sighed, made an irritated tutting sound, then reached up and yanked the knife out of his own chest.

"Pity. I did rather like this shirt."

He dangled the bloody knife between finger and thumb, letting it swing like a pendulum before Guin's nose.

"Is this how you normally treat your male admirers, my dear?"

Guin stared at the knife, then at the deep gash in his chest as it slowly knit itself back together. "What are you?" she whispered.

Thesul smiled slyly. "Would you like me to show you, Guin?"

Guin didn't reply.

Still crouched on the tabletop, Thesul leaned in closer. His voice dipped to a deep, velvety murmur. "I've tried to explain my position, Guin, but it seems mere words are not enough for you. I should have guessed as much, perhaps. You are, after all, much like him. And he always valued action above words—substance before promises. He wanted his subjects to give before they received..."

Thesul was close enough now that Guin felt his hot breath on her cheek. "And I believe I have something in my possession which you most desperately want, Guin. Something which I am more than willing to give."

For a fraction of a second, Guin thought she felt his lips brush against her ear—then he leaned back once more and looked down at her with a friendly smile. The bloodstain had spread across his entire shirtfront, though the knife wound was now completely healed.

"What do you think of that little proposition?" he asked.

At last, Guin found her voice. "You don't have anything I want," she croaked.

Thesul shook his head. "Oh, I disagree."

He let the knife slip from his fingers. It thunked blade-first into the table and stuck there, quivering.

Guin swallowed hard. Her heart was beating painfully fast, making her short of breath. Still, she tried to sound brave. "Then tell me. What have you got that I could possibly want?"

Thesul's smile deepened. "Why, the key to saving your beloved sister's life, Guin."   

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