Chapter 1: A Change of Plans

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Amarissa Mith was perched upon the roof of one of the towers of the rose gold palace. She could see just about anything worth seeing on Nexus from here. The sun was setting on the capital of the Empire.

It was a relaxing place. Quiet, unlike the grand halls and exquisitely furnished rooms of the palace interior. Inside there was always someone to talk to, always something that needed doing. Even for young Amarissa, who had just turned 18 and was recently accepted into the Royal Alchemist’s Academy.

She pulled a small, purple-ish gem from her knapsack. It was an amethyst, crude and unrefined. She squeezed the gem tightly within her palm, felt the edges dig into her skin. She didn’t stop until a small stream of blood was running from her palm down her wrist.

Then, she released her grip on the worthless stone and murmured a few words in an old tongue. The gem shattered; not into fragments, but into dust – aether. She blew the purple dust out of her hand.

It seemed to hang in the air for a moment and then, poof. A dragon hatchling appeared, less than a foot tall or wide, and she caught it in her non-bleeding hand. The creature flapped its little wings hopelessly, only calming down when she caressed the yellow scales along its head.

The dragon, a fledgling Shockjaw, was a gift from a faraway prince – a Duke’s son that she’d never met.

“Hello, Sparky,” she whispered to the now-relaxed critter. It had curled up along her arm. She leaned back against the slightly slanted roof of the tower to help support the two of them.

She had received Sparky two years ago on her 16th birthday. Ordinarily a two year old Shockjaw would be 3 or 4 feet tall and at least that long. But not Sparky: he had proven to be the runt of the litter. It was customary in the Mith House, which handled the breeding of all dragons in the Empire, to put runts out of their misery; they couldn’t tap into the Rift and thus served no real purpose. So they claimed anyways.

Amarissa had no need for a beast of burden. She’d lived in the palace most of her life and they kept a royal bestiary full of just about every type of dragon there was. She thus enjoyed Sparky more for his quiet companionship than anything else.

Although there were always exceptions. She’d bandaged up her hand while the two of them were resting. She was now standing, Sparky outstretched on her other hand like a falcon, and they were aimed at the tower opposite of theirs.

Go,” she said and they disappeared. She caught a glimpse of the Rift in this moment: it was a bizarre experience for humans. A hellish abyss, a maze with no clear entrance or exit, but that didn’t seem to bother Sparky.

They dropped out of the Rift and, when Amarissa reopened her eyes, they were standing on the other tower’s roof. “Good boy,” she said excitedly, grabbing a treat out of her sack and tossing it to Sparky.

“Miss Mith!” a voice cried out from the palace below. It was Untin, a sort of curator that served the Emperor. His primary job, in Amarissa’s mind, was to keep track of her.

“Miss Mith, your father is looking for you!” Untin shouted again.

Amarissa sighed and then beckoned Sparky back into her hand. “Down,” she commanded and once more she caught a brief glimpse of the Rift. They reappeared in the room below.

Untin jumped back, startled and spilling the glass of water he was carrying onto his velvet suit, “By the Five!”

“Sorry, Unti,” she responded sarcastically. Sparky curled up on his bed – the room they had just traveled to was, in fact, her room.

“It’s fine,” he said, patting himself down with a cloth. “Your father seeks your presence urgently.”

“Does he now?” she asked. Her father, the Emperor Yaigon Mith, almost never spoke to her outside of meals and formal occasions. It wasn’t so much that he was a bad dad as it was that being the Emperor was a 24/7 job. Which lead to him being a bad dad by transitive property.

Untin escorted her through the winding halls of the Imperial Palace and brought her to her father’s chambers. He left them with a short bow.

Amarissa walked in cautiously. Yaigon was standing by the window and looking out at Nexus. The last hints of sunlight made his face glow brightly, but his expression was grim.

“Rissa,” he said with a cough.

“You sound worse by the hour, father,” she said with frustration.

He turned around to face her, “Not now, dear. We have more important matters to attend to?”

“Such as?”

“Your Ascendancy,” he said.

Amarissa gasped. Tears emerged in her eyes.

“Your brother was killed on Vel’garde.”

Her tears fell.

Taigon continued, “I just received word. The rebels…they seized the city and have secured the duchy.”

Vel’Garde was the home world of House Mith, barring the fact that they always had the throne on Nexus. It was the primary source of dragons in the Empire. Lourn Mith was her brother and the heir apparent to the Imperial throne. It was tradition for the heir to receive control of Vel’Garde prior to their Ascendancy.

Taigon coughed and the didn’t stop coughing. He fell to the ground. Amarissa ran to his side. She rolled him over onto his back. He hacked up blood.

“No, no,” she murmured through tears. “Help! Unti! Get the doctor!”

Taigon’s eyes widened and contacted Amarissa’s. He clutched a pocket on his royal attire.

Amarissa reached into the pocket and retrieved a schorl tourmaline, a small black gem. She crushed it in her un-bandaged hand until she began to bleed. She spoke some more words of that ancient tongue and then released a fistful of the dark aether into her father’s mouth.

Untin rushed in, the royal physician Doctor Yomgale following close behind, along with several nurses and other staffers of the palace.

“Back, Marissa!” Untin urged, grabbing her shoulders and pulling her away from her father.

The doctor knelt down beside the Emperor and assessed his vitality.

“Stop!” Amarissa protested, Untin still holding onto her. She broke free of his grasp and pushed the doctor away.

A moment later, Taigon coughed up a foul mixture of aether and blood. He sat upright and cracked his neck. He nodded at Amarissa and shooed the others away.

Doctor Yomgale spoke, still somewhat in shock, “Sir, I really must insist on my being here. I do not know what pox fell upon you or why you are suddenly better.” He then turned to Amarissa with a scowl curled on his lips.

“You know perfectly well my pox, doctor. It is lung cancer, same as it has been for a year and a half. My time on this plane closes,” he said honestly.

“Still, there’s the matter of your sudden revival…” Yomgale said, trailing off.

“You act like it’s a bad thing,” Amarissa said.

The doctor stood, “Hardly. Consider it professional curiosity. Nevertheless, I shall leave you two to it.”

Amarissa shut the door – loudly – behind him. “That doctor of yours has no respect for alchemy,” she groaned.

“Few do anymore, Riss,” Taigon said, standing up with her assistance. “And, I’ll have you note, he’ll be your doctor soon enough.”

“If I keep him around,” Amarissa quipped. She then realized the implication: “And don’t speak in such a way, father. Positive mindset.”

Taigon chuckled, “Be that as it may, reality must take priority. I will die – tomorrow or a year from now, who can say – but death is a certainty. An alchemist ought to appreciate that fact. When I do, you must be ready to take the throne.”

Amarissa sat down on her father’s super-sized bed and sighed. “I’m not ready,” she said lowly.

“No one ever is,” Taigon assured her.

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