Parthus glowers over the map spread upon his table, his fingers digging into the oceans around his father’s province. No, it no more belonged to his father than did the sky belong to the worms. This was the land of the dragon, for as long as he or anyone else could remember. The scaled ones were their saviors and protectors, the shepherds that led mankind to the prosperity they now know. Parthus looked down upon a familiar peninsula, split in two by even borders. He runs a finger along the letters that name Kammus, his province and his ward, half of the cage for the inland Silverglint Sea. His brow furrows as his gaze slips to his nation’s neighbors. He drops his hand over Kammus, guarding it within a finger cage.
“The reports from the north grow more troubling with each passing day,” Parthus mutters. “Where are our lords now?”
“Something troubling you, my lord?” an icy voice hisses. Parthus jolts up from the map table and spins about, drawing the steel of his blade and holding it forward. Around him, the shadows of the chamber flicker at the edge of the wavering light, but Parthus could see no other movement.
“Who goes there?” Parthus growls. “I command you: show yourself!” Jabs of laughter pierces the air from all around the princeling. Parthus edges around the table, his eyes and blade searching for the source of the noise.
“You presume much,” the voice continues, “if you believe you have command over me.”
“My father is exarch,” Parthus proclaims. “He and his line command all in Kammus.” A set of light, yet deliberate footsteps catches Parthus’ attention. He brings his sword to bear as he turns to face the noise. Stepping from the shadows is a tall, lithe figure draped in robes and leather armor at his wrists and ankles. A heavy cowl hangs over the figure’s face, but a wicked grin traces a sharp jaw. The figure holds gloved hands outstretched as he approaches.
“All save for the dragons,” the figure adds. Parthus takes a step forward, leveling his sword at the figure’s heart.
“Tell me your name and why you’re here,” Parthus demands, “And perhaps I won’t run you through where you stand.” The figure folds his hands together in a gesture of peace, though his sneer is only slightly diminished.
“A thousand pardons, princeling,” the figure says. “My name is Usramin and I come to you now simply to offer counsel… and a warning.” Parthus’ eyes narrow, his blade unfaltering.
“Usramin…” Parthus mused. “An elven name. What counsel could you possibly offer me? I should see you hanged.” Usramin strides to the map table, with Parthus guiding his every step at blade’s end. Usramin slides a hand across each of the Empire’s provinces.
“You will think differently before long,” Usramin states. He scuttles his fingers from one province to the next. “It’s so hard to fathom a land so united and yet so divided.”
“The Empire is strong,” Parthus says. “It has lasted for centuries and will last for centuries more.”
“Are those your words?” Usramin asks. “Or are they the words you were trained to know? You can’t tell me you haven’t felt it. The distance? The solitude? As far as the dragons are concerned, you are alone at the edge of the world. And you have monsters on your doorstep.”
“I have one right in front of me,” Parthus growls, tightening his grip on his weapon. Usramin does not flinch, placing a hand upon his own chest.
“I am not your enemy, Parthus,” Usramin counters. “Surely you’ve heard the reports coming from Dolsibar and the Sanguine Mire. Gnoll tribes gone mad, travelers gone missing, a dragonlord presumed dead? There is something far worse than mere elves rising from the depths.”
“If there is such a threat,” Parthus states, “then we must trust in the dragonlords to drive it back to the void.” Usramin leans forward, shoulders hunched and fingers hooked like talons.
“Must we?” Usramin spits. “Tell me: when have lords Lorosh and Lumis ever lifted so much as a claw for your people’s sake? Or for the sake of your twin province of Kalys? They care more for their petty feud than for your well-being. They will roar over who owns their palace while it burns down around them. Your father already runs this province with twice the prowess of any dragon.”
“Because he must,” Parthus says. “It is his sacred duty as exarch, as soon it will be mine. It runs in the blood. We are the children of the dragons.”
“Perhaps now,” Usramin sneers. “But once you were the children of men, and you have forgotten your pride. Your power.” Usramin reaches behind his back. Parthus tenses, but before he can rush forward to strike, Usramin produces a curved dagger settled within a dark scabbard. Usramin sets it upon the map table before turning to leave, speaking in his same icy tone.
“It’s time mankind reclaimed its hold on destiny.”
Parthus watches as Usramin departs. He approaches the table takes a quick glance at the weapon. When he turns back to the direction in which Usramin was walking, the princeling finds himself alone once more. He sheathes his sword as he scoops up the dagger, inspecting the ornate designs inscribed along the length of the stone scabbard. As he turns it over in his hands, a green luster darts over its surface, speckled by oily stains.