Chapter 34: A Broken Heart

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"Those sensitive to Magick, correct?" Dux said.

"Precisely," Lady Kent said. "On the day of the attack, half of my household's Attuned went into seizures. The other half died instantly. Those that were still alive were said to be mumbling something. It was brushed off as jibberish at first, but I have learned with time that the minds of a broken Talent are still quite useful."

"What did they say?" Dux demanded.

That the Heart of Magnus had been shattered."

There was a pause as those around the table wrapped their minds around what Lady Kent had said. Dux's brows furrowed in confusion. Lord Hallan glared down at the carving of the city, toying with an obsidian piece.

For some reason, all that Libro could think about were the Dargon and the hill they so desperately dug into. The annihilation sphere and the great corona of light that seared them off the face of the earth, reduced to an ashen smudge.

"I have no idea what that means." Dux finally said.

"And neither do we." Lady Kent nodded towards Lord Hallan. "The only one who might know is the Empress." The Lady paused to let that sink in. "And she hasn't left the throne room since the attack."

Dux took a deep breath, exhaling slowly out of his nose, his eyes going hard. "Then I'll have to speak with her then."

"Her majesty will not receive visitors." Lord Hallan snapped.

"She will receive me." Dux countered. "I am her Captain." A muscle feathered across the Lord's jaw, but he said nothing. For awhile, silence dominated the war room once more.

Finally, Lady Kent said, "We'll need to prepare for another attack. The rebels may have scattered for now, but they will be back."

"My men are yours to command while I speak with the Empress." Dux said. "Lord Hallan, your men would do well with Officer Culter, Officer Regis and Officer Magus. My Lady, I offer Officer Nox and Officer Civis."

"Thank you, Captain Dux." Lady Kent bowed. Lord Hallan merely gave a curt nod.

"If you have any supplies to spare, I have a few new recruits in need of proper weapons and armor." Dux continued.

"I will see it done." Lord Hallan's eyes narrowed. No doubt the man was not used to being ordered around, but pride it seemed could be set aside for now. "But what of Officer Libro there?" Lord Hallan added. "Where is he to go?"

Dux turned to look at Libro, the two of them locking eyes. "As I said, he is the Vangen's Chronicler. Where I go, he goes." The Captain motioned to leave. Libro bowed before the Lord and Lady one final time before following quickly at Dux's heels.

Libro kept close to Dux as he marched out the war room, turning down a stone hall, deeper into the Palace. Libro moved in silence as they wound through the passageways, up stairwells and through dimly lit corridors. It was only when Libro passed through a familiar set of wooden double doors did he recognize where Dux was going. Through the cold stone hallway, another set of doors came to greet them, carved in the guise of the Empress. The throne room.

Libro felt his heart leap into his throat. His mind itched as he drew closer, remember all the horrid dreams he had been subjected too. The Empress' prying. Her burning amber eyes. The lingering anger that made his nerves spark down his entire body. He almost wanted to run then, but obedience won out over his instincts. At least for now.

"Libro." Dux said suddenly. His voice echoed in the stone hallway, sounding heavy and sullen.

"Yes sir?"

"I want you to wait for me here. Okay? I won't be long."

"Yes, Captain."

Dux hesitated before stepping towards the doors. Slowly, they parted, groaning like hungry beasts awaiting their coming meal. From beyond, Libro could see the faint outline of the Onyx Throne, and sitting upon it The Empress. She sat there motionless, raising only a hand to beckon Dux in. Step by step he drew deeper into the throne room, until he had passed completely through.

With a jolt, the doors slammed shut, their sound like the pounding of a catapult, echoing down the hallway until only the hiss of silence remained.

It was a long time before Dux emerged again. Libro looked up from where he sat shivering, eyes wide once he heard the doors open once more.

"Captain," Libro began to say, only to stop short. Dux looked like he hadn't slept in days instead of the hours he had been gone. His eyes were sunken in, face pale and slick with sweat. His lips were cracked and splitting. Hand clenching and unclenching. He looked down at Libro for a moment as if just recognizing him.

"Captain," Libro said again. "What happened?"

Dux shook his head and swallowed, only then did the fire return. His eyes went hard, his face returning to that iron mask of his.

"Nothing that concerns you." Dux stepped past Libro, his eyes focused ahead. "I have some business that needs tending too."

"I'll join you then." Libro said, moving to catch up. The Captain held out a hand.

"I'll be doing this alone. Go report to the Lady and see if she needs anything of you." Libro opened his mouth to object, but something in Dux's eye told him otherwise. He saluted and the Captain swept down the rest of the steps before disappearing down the hall.

Alone once again, Libro stopped and stared at the doors to the throne room, the twin carvings of the Empress leering back at him. Whatever had happened in that throne room, it had left the Captain in a terrible state. Memories of Libro's past dreams sent a shiver up his spine.

Not wanting to disobey the Captain, Libro left, beating feet back to the war room.

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