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Shadow of Time

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This is the prologue of a book I was working on, I probably wont post more since I might someday publish it, but it is still an interesting read. Enjoy.

© Copyright 2006 A. J. S. Dudley

Shadow of Time: Book One

Prologue:

Mortaegus fumed as he walked briskly down a curving corridor that bridged two towers of the imperial citadel. He cursed under his breath, his anger building until he visibly shook with the frustration of holding it in. Spontaneously, he punched the marble wall beside him. That hurt, but it was a vent for his frustration. He allowed the anger he felt to remain. Anger, if it lasted long enough, grew cold. And cold anger was very powerful motivation. He would need good motivation if he was to endure the trials of the coming months. That reasoning brought on an unexpected calm, and he began to ask himself the important questions. How could they do this to him, how could they be so arrogant? The answer was obvious, of course, they feared him: the second youngest man ever to reach the status of junior councilor, his rise to power had been unprecedented. He had spent the last thirteen years of his life, and half of his family fortune, to make the right impressions to the right people. Just seven months ago it had paid off, with Mortaegus earning his sponsorship under the guiding hand of councilor Daemian. But even that had not been enough. The council still did not take him seriously. They could not see the threat that loomed before them. Who could blame them; no force had dared to challenge their power in over three hundred years.

As he neared the middle of the corridor’s length, the walls dropped away to reveal open balconies. Both offered a terrifying view of just how high up he was. One of the first bits of advice Daemian had offered Mortaegus had been to take care around the ledges. People had actually walked off before. It was said that the horizon could play tricks on the mind, that if a person stared at it long enough they would believe that they could walk right out to it. The entire thing was preposterous, because no matter how far a person walked, the horizon would always be the same distance away, and only the ground between them and it would change. At that height, the land seemed flat, and beneath him stretched the shimmering city. Araen, in all of its splendor, the capital of power for the entire world. He knew it would not last, the empire of Araen was failing, the centuries had seen her legions spent, and a plague of corruption had broken her. The play of growth and stability laid down by the council was as false as the road to the horizon.

Mortaegus found himself to be fuming again; his resourcefulness had seemed to come to an end. His position would not change until he was older; carrying the respect of experience, and time was against him. He would be a junior councilor until his sponsor died, when he would inherit the rank of councilor from Daemian. Considering that his sponsor was rather youthful himself, the wait would be long. He had some time, but not that much. He briefly considered killing Daemian, but dismissed the thought immediately. It would not serve him, and Daemian was one of the few voices that supported him on the council, a voice he could not afford to lose. Something of his returning frustration must have shown in his eyes, because as they focused on a particularly unlucky servant, who had been caught in the path of his green stare, she gave a frightened shriek and darted off about her business. Shaking his head, which sent strands of his long black hair whipping around to stick to his sweaty face, he forced himself to calm down. “There are times for action, and times for patience.” He said, chiding himself briefly; there was a measure of pride about him. He was not the type of person to harass the servants, and despised the highborn fools who considered themselves above the lower class citizens. Besides, getting worked up would do no one any good, himself the least of all.

Taking a deep breath, he exhaled sharply to clear the strands of hair from his eyes, as he resumed his walk across the bridge-enclosure. In another ten minutes he had reached the guest section of the citadel towers, and within another two he had entered his room. A bed, with fresh covers courtesy of the maids, and a small work desk with a corresponding chair were all the furnishings his room provided him. Precious little in the way of luxury. He didn’t feel any need for material things or the false comforts they provided. The ownership of something might seem important to others, but Mortaegus understood the truth of it all, that all one owned was his ability to make choices. Even that was sometimes denied to people in less fortunate parts of the world. Slowly, and with very deliberate movements, he began to pace the room. There had to be something he could do, something to make them listen. But he could think of nothing, his last effort had been spent that morning, trying desperately to convince the high councilor, Vaelin, to appeal. That effort had been wasted. Vaelin was old, and like the other senior members of the council; he was stubborn to the point of suicide, and then some.

Mortaegus began to categorize the members of the council, seeing who would support him, who could be turned to support him, and who would never accept him. The council, with all of its political bickering, power mongering, and petty squabbles, was hardly a coherent force. His primary opposition came from a councilor named Cyraen. The man was a tyrant; he had blackmailed, threatened, and pressured nearly a third of the council into submission. With his group of carefully chosen, like minded individuals, to support him, he would be impossible to oppose. There were a few wild cards, the general-turned-politician Aldraen being one, and his close friend, councilor Kinaer being another. But even if he could get both of them to side with him, it would never work. He knew this because he also knew that Cyraen would not sit idle while he worked to achieve his ends. With a single word, Cyraen could have a third of the council voting unanimously, and another third abstaining for fear of him. The remaining councilors would not care enough to stop him. With the little influence he had, Mortaegus was without means of challenging Cyraen.

Then it came to him: a method to achieve the necessary end. High councilor Vaelin was old, very old; people had even guessed that he might die within the next decade. There were two likely candidates for the succession, Aldraen and Cyraen, neither of which were currently supportive of Mortaegus. Yet, if he could garner enough support for his sponsor, he might succeed in getting Daemian chosen as the next high councilor. And by the law of succession, he would then take the current seat of his sponsor. A new high councilor needed help to unite the council in his favor; many times having his former seat filled with his chosen inheritor was the deciding factor in votes. His course of action decided, Mortaegus promptly set his mind to work on how to gather the needed support. A decade was not so long to wait, and if by chance Vaelin seemed to be living for too long, the high councilor’s life could always be shortened.
 
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