Chapter 34: A Broken Heart

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The war room was alive with activity as Libro stepped in. The large, well furnished halls were buzzing with officers and clerks, servants and men-at-arms, all taking and receiving orders. Libro stepped past a group of officers in red and gold surcoats as he worked to keep pace with Dux.

"Everyone's so well dressed." Libro remarked. "Not a speck of dirt on them." He looked down at his own clothes, still splattered with gore and grime from the previous night. The Vangen had been given little time for rest before Dux had put those still fit for service towards guard duty. Even the Captain himself had not changed, looking as dirty and gruff as a highwayman.

"Goes to show how the elites like to operate." Dux commented, still staring straight ahead. "Passing out orders behind the security of walls, leaving the work for the grunts."

Indeed, thought Libro. Very unlike the Vangen way. "By the way, Captain. Why am I here again? This place looks more fit for people like Civis or Regis. Strategists and the like, you know?"

Dux gave a sidelong glance. "Because you're the Chronicler. I want you to jot what happens down. This rebellion is going to go down in history one day and I want everyone to know how exactly it happened. That is was the Vangen who ended this rebellion, staring now."

Libro felt a lump form in his throat. He didn't have the heart to tell Dux then that the Archive was ruined. "Yes...Indeed. I'll need some new ink and quills given the chance. I can jot it down from memory."

"Fine by me. Now come along, the Strategium is this way." Dux winded down a corridor with Libro following close behind.

The next room they entered was larger than the last. Dark stone walls vaulted towards a high ceiling, painted in a fresco of the Empire's founding. Each quarter displayed an important event. The founding by Emperor Contanias. His son Constant ascending the throne after his father's passing. And the ascension of every son after.

It was the last quarter that drew Libros' attention. Displayed was the Empress standing on the parade balcony of the Palace, looking down on an unfinished pyre. Before, he wouldn't have given the fresco a second glance, but knowing what he did now, it left a hollow knot in his gut.

He turned his attention away, instead focusing on the large, round stone stable seated in the center of the room. The city of Byzantia stood on top, carved meticulously out of wood, ivory and obsidian. Two well dressed people murmured nearby, picking up carvings of armies and placing them about the city, arguing all the while.

The one on the right was an impeccably dressed man in his late fifties with sharp features and a graying well trimmed beard. His hair was long, silvered and pulled back into a tight ponytail. His mouth creased, creating deep lines in his face that made it appear that he'd scowled since the day he was born.

The one on the right thought was dressed more modestly. A woman in her mid forties, although age had done little towards her youthful beauty. Her hair blazed fire red in the torchlight, a stark contrast to her freckled alabaster skin. When she turned to address the man, her neck craned shapely, falling down onto a set of strong shoulders.

It was only when Libro drew nearer that he finally realized who stood these people were. Lord Hallan of the Forge Lords and Lady Kent of the Bowmen Levies. Two of the most powerful noble houses in all of Byzantia. His thoughts rested on their banners hanging in the throne room and how far their history ran towards the ground.

Lord Hallan looked up, his narrow eyes hard and rimmed with dark marks. He parted a strand of long, gray hair and said, "Well, if it isn't the great Captain Dux himself. I'm glad you finally decided to show up. Tell me, how was Orienta? I'm sure it must be lovely this time of year." There was a hint of poison laced with his smooth honeyed voice.

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