Rat King

Bloodline

The white laced curtains swayed slightly with the gentle ocean breeze that eased over the marbled floor of Isadoras balcony. Her slim body glistened with a sheen of sweat, directly contradicting the cool evening air. Suddenly, she shot upright in bed, her green eyes staring eastward in surprise. She touched a brown hand to her chest as the vacuum shed experienced her whole life suddenly was less empty. She spoke the name from her dream in a whisper as if someone might overhear. ”Demitri… ”

For the first time in months, the young woman slept peacefully.

”My lady, it is time. ” A voice called from the doorway. The pale woman wore the simple accouterments of her kind; woven from black sheep that lived near the peak of the Ulysi Monastery. Yun was a bodyguard, teacher, and spiritual advisor to the daughter of the Duke.

”I know you insist on formalities, but clearly, it isn needed when its just the two of us. ”

Yun stepped in and closed the door behind her. ”Very well, Isadora. ” The woman walked barefoot across the floor while she studied her charge. Something was off this morning. ”You seem different. ”

”Yes, ” The girl dropped her nightclothes on the bed and stretched her slender arms overhead. ”Make an appointment for me to see Father. ”

”My Lady… ” Yuns usually passive face gave way to her concerns. Lord Duscanti was busy vying for power with the other Dukes in the Kingdom, those with sons. Although his daughter was a capable fighter, tactician, and diplomat, he treated her like any other tool at his disposal. One day she would be married off to cement an alliance.

Isadora held up a hand to stop any further discussion. ”Do it at once. Ive had a vision. ”

”A vision? ” Yun waited quietly while her charge dressed. The last time Isadora had a vision it was of her fathers death. Three years earlier, Lord Duscanti had been about to sail to one of the nearby continents as part of an alliance fleet action. Instead, his daughter marched into the War Room and announced the impending death of her father and his three closest friends.

Isadora shrugged the memory off; he beat her in front of everyone and then locked her away. The sudden event did manage to shake Duscanti and his three allies to the point where they delayed their participation. Less than a week later, the entire fleet was destroyed. Two of the Beastmen Lords turned traitor and joined the enemy. The event shook the Empire to its core. Her reward had been a room in the North Tower. ”Yes. I must see him at once. Its at least as important as the last time. ”

Isadora slipped on her training clothes; mornings were spent doing martial training. Her bodyguard immediately left to find the Duke, giving the young woman some time to herself.

”Demitri… ” The name brought a smile to her face; she knew he thought of himself as Rat. Her eyes strayed to the large map that decorated the wall above her bed. ”The four Kingdoms. ” Her thoughts lingered on what she knew of the continent. The smallest of the four Kingdoms was considered neutral ground. It had once been the seat of the Beast Kings Empire. Now only the dregs of their race remained, hunted down or traveling as nomads.

She glanced at the rest of the map. Their Empire was in a constant state of flux. Currently, they were warring with the Khomane to the far north. The dispute was over the three islands between them. ”Its time to leave this place. ”

Yun returned within a few minutes and stood in the doorway. ”Hell see you now, My Lady. ”

Isadora nodded and followed the monk out of her room. ”Remember that conversation we had at the Salt Springs three years ago.

Yun nearly stumbled at the mention of it but quickly recovered. ”Yes. ”

”If this works out, it will be time to implement it, ” Isadora said nothing else until they arrived outside her fathers hall. ”If youve changed your mind, then forget I said anything. ”

Isadora stepped into the marbled hall a moment later. White marbled floors, gold-framed paintings, and various expensive items stolen from other cultures were the central theme of the decor. Duscanti sat on a platform talking to one of his oldest friends, Count Forli.

”Isadora… ” Duscanti said the name without any fatherly affection. ”Yun says that youve had another vision. ”

Isadora bowed deeply before meeting his gaze. ”For your ears only, Father. ”

Her father dismissed her words with a wave of his hand. ”Forli is my oldest friend. You may speak freely. ”

Instead of speaking, Isadora shook her head and stood silently under his stare.

”Your father bid you to speak! ” A weasely voice spoke from off to one side.

Isadora hadn noticed him since she found Forlis only son repulsive. Yakub supposedly had the same wolf-kin form that his father possessed, but shed never seen it.

”Yakub, speak more gently to the girl youll be marrying. ” Forli offered Isadora a friendly smile. ”Well step out for a few minutes if she is feeling shy. ”

Isadora tightened her throat to keep the bile from rising up. Shed throw herself from her balcony rather than wed such an awful person.

If Duscanti was angry, it didn show on his face. Instead, he waited until Forli and his son left before motioning for Yun to close the door. ”Do you wish Yun to leave also? ”

Isadora nodded. She felt a pang of guilt at the surprise on her bodyguards face, but she ignored it. People were killed to keep secrets; she had no clue how her father would react. She waited until the door closed again before speaking. ”My vision was of my birth. ”

Duscanti crossed his arms in front of him, scowling at his daughter. It was a reminder that despite his carnal nature, he managed to sire one child and that was a daughter. ”What about it? ”

”A Magi-Midwife delivered me from a Rat-woman named Ember. ” Isadora had to focus on keeping emotions out of her voice. Before last night, she hadn known her mothers name.

Duscanti uncrossed his arms and grabbed a silver goblet that sat precariously on the chairs arms. Hed forgotten both the Magi and the Rat woman, but the name sounded familiar. ”Continue, ” there was a flicker of interest in his eyes.

”After my birth, you struck the Magi and returned to your ship. ”

Duscanti nodded. ”I should have killed her for lying to me. ”

Isadora shook her head. ”An hour or so later, Ember gave birth to a second child. This one was a boy. ”

The silver goblet flattened in his overly large hands. Duscanti leaped to his feet; his eyes brightened like they did before he changed into his beast form. ”What? ” The words weren shouted but instead whispered.

”Last night, he underwent a blood rite ritual with one of the Nomadic tribes in the Four Kingdoms. ” Isadora calmed her breathing. The memory of it made her heart pound. ”Hes there. I can feel him even now. ”

Duscanti had doubted his daughters visions before, going so far as to beat her before finding out that she saved his life. He had never spoken of the Magi-Midwife, nor named the Rat-woman that birthed her. A son… Could it be? His ship left almost immediately after he returned. For the first time in his life, he felt anger at himself. Without a son, his position in the Empire was weakening. Other Dukes were eyeing his territory. ”You can feel him? Could you find him? ”

Isadora nodded. ”Even if he was hiding in a crowded city, I could point him out. ” She continued confidently. ”Although untrained, hes fierce. Recently he was injured badly while fighting a band of elite hunters. ”

”Injured? Will he recover? ” Duscanti dropped the flattened goblet on the marble floor; his eyes burrowed hers.

”Yes, this was earlier in the summer. I saw three visions of his memories while he was undergoing the blood rite. ”

Duscanti cursed under his breath. He couldn send military forces to the Four Kingdoms. The King required his presence in the campaign against the Khomane.

”Send me, Father. I will find him and bring him back. ” Isadora held her breath after she spoke, he rarely changed his mind once he made a decision.

Duscanti considered his options before nodding. ”I can go with you, but I will send Forlis son, Yakub. ”

”Is that wise? ” She kept her tone neutral. She hated the lecherous Yakub, but he would cause her plans to change.

”Whats that mean? You and he will marry one day. ”

”He believes that marrying me will make him your heir. ” Isadora chose her words carefully. ”Sending him on a mission to retrieve your son seems a bit… tempting. What is it that you always say? ”

”That temptation is a bitch. ” Duscanti was close with Forli, but in this instance, Isadora had a point. ”Who can we trust? ”

”Yun. She can gather a few of her fellow monks and accompany me. ” Isadora watched her fathers eyes as he considered the possibilities. ”I won tell her about Demitri. I will say my vision concerns locating my mother and bringing her back with me. ”

”Demitri? ” Duscanti grinned suddenly, perhaps his first real joy in more than a decade. ”Thats his name? ”

”It is. ”

”Push forward with this plan. Talk to Yun and well discuss logistics before dinner. ” The possibility of him having an heir was too important to put off, nor would he share it with Forli.

Isadora bowed deeply. ”As you wish, Father. ”

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