Breaking The Stranglehold

The empty silence of the endless corridors echoed like sudden screams. The only break from the deafening quiet was the occasional footfall of the masked nuns as they circled in perfect intervals and chant hymns of the purity of the mind. In this place more than all others, Mel knew she was unsafe. These were the servants of Zarus and they held an animosity for her heritage beyond their respect for her nobility. The ice blue bars that bound her in her cell radiated a sense of unease that assaulted her soul and kept her mind on edge. And this was to be a place for the unwell of mind to get treatment?
Using only the light that filtered in through the magic bars in the window above her head, she measured the passing of time. The masked nuns circled every ten minutes. Every ten minutes, the Relic Tongue hymns espousing
purity of flesh, purity of mind, purity of soul came back and left with the same slow gait. But, after four dusks and three dawns, another set of footsteps broke the steady meter. Melly feared herself, for she knew the Sanitorium kept Abherrants on retainer. Such a killer would bleed her just for her mother's fey blood in her father's human bloodline. But the figure who grabbed the energy of the bars to her cell as though they were steel was not an executioner of her people.
"Pick yourself off of the floor. Carry yourself with your dignity." Although an abrasive bark, the voice of the Emperor was undeniable. The bars of her cell winced and shied away from his voice.
"Cyr- Your Grace?" Mel picked herself off of the stonework and stepped into the moonlight that barely illuminated her prison. Even her yellow nymph eyes couldn't peer beyond the light of the bars.
"And get out of the moonlight. You're too pale, you're gonna blind me." And the dark spell was broken, they shared a smile as the Relic Tongue echoed around the corner on its approach. The magic bars of Mel's cell melted away from Cyric's grasp and evaporated to form a doorway. "Now walk with me. Tell me why you're in here."
On shaky legs, the Marchioness stepped forward and pushed her long, bark-brown hair out of her face to better see her patron. She made to brush herself off but the only clothing afforded to her was a rough cotton shift that looked more as a potato sack than a lady's dress but approximately covered everything it needed. Instead, she held her arms in front of her to cover what exposed skin the sack didn't. She looked up at her taller companion as he offered a hand for her shoulder and took her for a walk towards the exit. His hand felt heavy and she could almost sense the questions on his lips but she let herself speak before he could ask.
"The rifts. The Abbey is fighting with itself. I can't take it." She reached up to the choker at her throat and gripped it, tracing a finger along the rune. The Relic Tongue rune for Clandestine. It hid her from the nuns' sight and let her in the Abbey. Watching her hold it, thinking about it, Cyric took out his own amulet of the Soros Order. Unlike her carved stone rune, his was engraved into an uncut serpentine green stone with black spots that reflected the dim moonlight of any window they passed.
"The Soros are always fighting. It's why you never put women in charge of each other. But they're unimportant right now. You are all that matters." He stopped her midstep and turned to her. "I made a promise to your mother that I wouldn't let these mortals treat you like this. And I intend to keep it even though she left this life."
"What should I do?" Mel's desperation rang through her words. Outside the bonds of the hieromancy that had locked her away this past half week, the ethereal song that played through her fey voice was beginning to return as a solemn requiem. Her imprisonment and the stress that sent her to the sanitorium was dimming her normally jubilant aria.
"Give me the rune." Simple but authoritative. She opened her mouth to question it but thought better of herself. The hand clutching her choker walked itself to the latch over her jugular and opened it. The sudden breathing room was unnatural for her after wearing it for all of the centuries on the Plane of Man. She held it out for him as though she expected him to swipe it like a thief, but all her did was close a hand over it and whisper a single word in the Relic Tongue. When he released it, the stone had morphed into honed gray hematite. The rune now said Freedom.
"What?"
"You are now banished from the Soros Order. May you never return to the Abbey or be bothered again by her politics. Not that I believe you mind.” A smile cracked across his face that reminded Mel of youth. Although his was artificial, hers came to the forefront of her mind. Including a cracked vision of her maidenhood from when she crossed here from the Wildlands. A vision of this rune before her and the haunting echo of the next few words out of his mouth. “As well, I believe I will be needing a new Vizier back in the Capital. The other Marchioness is failing in her duties. I trust you’re not too busy to advise your mother’s oldest friend now?”
Now the Relic Tongue was right behind them as the pacing nun stopped for only a moment in her track to turn towards them before she returned to her duty. With the anxiety overtaking her, Melly’s first instinct kicked in and she was cowed from Cyric’s touch.
“What about Alex? Or Kinue?”
“Because of who they were when your mother first came here, I don’t trust the Consulate to advise me directly. You, however, would be an agent of peace between your realms.”
“And controversy.”
“Very true. But my ascent to power was controversial. I don’t believe I could get much worse.”
“Your Grace, I-“ And she fell silent. She stared down at the rune hanging from her hand and craved the tightness of it around her throat again. Freedom terrified her after centuries of servitude- even nobility was servitude in these lands- but having the Emperor’s ear was a responsibility she didn’t believe she could shoulder.
“I don’t expect an answer yet. Let us bring you out from this place and get you real clothing first. That shift does nothing for your modesty.”

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