King Arlan had shown impeccable timing in getting himself murdered tonight. Talyn could think of no better excuse to leave one of his mother's insufferable dinner parties than, 'My apologies, someone assassinated the king, and I must go bring His Majesty back to life.'
But now, as Talyn and his bodyguard strode through the palace halls, anxiety prickled the air. Guards watched him with uneasy stares. Servants lingered in doorways, only to scatter like roaches when he glanced their way. He didn’t blame them for their uncertainty. He had become lifeweaver only a year ago, and self-doubt still churned in his gut. Especially now, before what would likely be the most important weave of his life. To fail would be akin to treason.
The tense atmosphere also spawned an unnerving thought: if someone truly wanted the king dead – permanently – then within the next few minutes, they would have to kill Talyn too.
And unlike every other person in Aronia, Talyn had no one to save him from death.
He shivered as he stepped through the dining hall's entry doors, enduring a sudden draft that carried the odors of citrus and blood. In every corner, shadows lingered. But so did royal guards – at least twenty, spaced evenly, like armored pillars wielding sword and spear.
Talyn murmured to his bodyguard, "How could an assassin slip past this many guards?"
Gariss, ever-vigilant, did not even spare him a glance. "Maybe some turned traitor."
The floor shook as the doors slammed shut behind them. Talyn jumped, and eyed the nearest guards. Their stern gazes judged him in return.
Shrinking closer to Gariss, Talyn fumbled with the pockets of his robe for the silver coin he always carried. When he withdrew it, the blessed trinket showed a pair of waning crescent moons. Again. The past few days, every time he checked his lucksign, the unlucky side came up. In the night sky, both moons waned as well. Ill omen atop ill omen.
"Siela protect me," he murmured, tucking the lucksign away. Continuing down the marble walkway, he faked a confident stride, but ended up feeling – and probably looking – as rigid as a boy on stilts. His lanky limbs and babyish face likely didn't invoke authority, either.
No traitorous guards or shadowy killers came for him. Yet.
He and Gariss marched between long, empty tables. The hall’s grandiosity would’ve appalled any commoners; they could have built themselves an oaken palace out of the hundreds of high-backed chairs. Talyn had dined here only once, during his official appointment as lifeweaver. The din of drunken nobles celebrating had made his ears ring. But tonight, the grand hall was a mausoleum. Only two sounds broke the silence: the subtle creaking of dozens of chandeliers, and Talyn's footsteps, thudding a chilling heartbeat.
On the far end, a wide dais lifted the royal table to prominence. This table, in turn, held up the remains of a small feast, a decanter of spilled wine, and a still, lifeless body: King Arlan.
Talyn made it halfway there before something invisible jabbed into his mind like steel raindrops.