Whispers begged, a sweet voice, laced with promises of pleasure and release. Death always spoke that way. It always assured Coran things would be better if he let it take a life. For a moment those sweet things it said were true. Truer than anything known now or past, and he knew that to be so. But moments do not last forever. Time made them lies. Cold and derisive lies like the promise of life, so pure, so sweet, to cloak the dirt it came from and would return to when time revealed death at its end. Such a delicate lie, contradicted by the simple cycle of time all life was bound to. Many would rather be fooled than acknowledge that.
Coran was no fool. He denied death's plea. It could not deceive him in exchange for meagre moments. He was not finished with the life it wanted. He needed more time, more than moments.
Golden hair lay sprawled around her head in a ring like rays of light. It glared at him through the shadows. Her life, the thread that tied her body to the world and her soul to flesh, quivered in his grasp. She was weak, pathetic and weak. He squeezed his hand, wrapped around her neck. Her lips parted to gape for air, her demands for mercy choked by the need to breathe. The audacity to request forgiveness for a stupid mistake and pity for a quick death was reprehensible. Light Dwellers could not be granted these things. In her weakness she had forgotten that.
Her eyes glazed. Their focus was on the end of her life. Coran knew the look well. Now too, she could hear the sweet whispers. She wanted it, welcomed it. What she suffered would give her no reason to try any longer. Her will would be too feeble to resist its call.
More time, he was still not done with her. He needed more.
Energy poured from him, through her, and back to him. Pain came with it, bites of steel, throbs of impact, lethargy at being forced to fight for life. He allowed it, endured it, to ease what she suffered. Not for mercy. He eased it to reduce the energy he would exhaust to deny her from death. He dragged her back in time, hauled her away from the frayed tangle of death at the end of her lifeline. Injuries he had inflicted on her body, blood he had leached from her, violations of her flesh, bruises and cuts, dragged, resistant of his reversal. Flesh was easy to destroy, time did it without thought. It was not so easy to turn back.
A knock ripped him away and annoyance seized him at the interruption. There was no pause. The doors to his chambers groaned open. Death snatched the Light Dweller beneath him and its whispers turned cold. They mocked him in triumph, reminded him of their sly lies, the trick they had fooled him with. It was not true, he had not been deceived. He had been interrupted. Time did not care for the definitions of that past moment. What it desired had been taken and he was left with what remained bound to this world. Dirt, with no soul she was just dust. Her body was useless to him without her there to receive retribution.
Coran growled at the girl, her lifeless corpse. In death her skin was no less blemished by the Light Dragon, His light held in its warm hues, and her face no less riddled with supplication. Her soul was gone.
He let the flow of energy stop. He could keep her flesh from decay, from its return to dust. Take it back to youth if he wished, alive in some sense. But the Light Dragon would never return her soul.
"Your forgiveness, Zien Xor'Coran."
He shoved himself away from the corpse and rose, tense and stiff, irritated and unsatisfied. He turned his ire on the intruder. A timid boy stared at the ground before him, the hood of his black cloak pulled over his head, face obscured. A few strands of black hair poked from beneath the fabric. The boy bowed low at the waist, any grace he might have shown smothered by tension.
Anger flexed Coran's shoulders, ready to be released on the stupid dweller. The boy straightened, somewhat. He did not stand tall or remove the hood from his head. Coran reined back his aggravation. The guard had let him in, there would be a reason. He scowled at the thought. There was no reason he could think of that would be acceptable.
"You - you told me to get you the in-instant there's news of the tunnels."
The dweller fiddled with a roll of parchment in his hands and shifted his weight in the silence that followed. He expected a reply. It should have been enough that he still lived.
He fumbled to remove his hood, and tidied the ruffle of his dark hair. His eyes were lilac, a descendent of Control. Mixed heritage, obvious by the common way he spoke. Reminiscent of a dweller Coran was not fond of. The boy should have left his face obscured. Ill manners were easier to forgive than the face of someone who vexed him. The dweller looked anywhere and everywhere to avoid confrontation. Perhaps it was Coran's state of undress that made the boy so nervous. He had interrupted at the worst possible moment. His gaze paused on the Light Dweller's exposed chest.
"Kur'Tesen s-said -"
Coran moved his hand sharp to cut the dweller's explanation short. He held it out for the message and the boy blanched. Reluctance dragged his feet, every movement, as he came closer to deliver the note he had been burdened with. He stepped around the limp corpse and dropped the parchment into his palm as though he had been ordered to feed a feral shero. Coran did not have sharp teeth. A simple touch from him was far more potent.
The scroll was sealed, with Emperor Da'Rakal's seal. He pried it open. It was addressed to him, scrawled in the old tongue, Rakal's own hand. He had returned. Coran's lip twitched to contain the bubble of rage in his chest. He drew a malevolent look against the messenger.
"This is not from Tesen. Nor is it word of the tunnels."
The boy stumbled back over the Light Dweller's corpse in a rush to retreat.
"Kur'Tesen had a-a feeling the West Provincial connection was com-complete."
"Was there anything else Kur'Tesen had a feeling about?" Coran hissed through his teeth.
Silence choked the dweller's words. He fought his feet to remain in place, a nervous jig on the spot he stood.
"He.." the boy swallowed a painful gulp to fill the pause, "Kur'Tesen felt you mightn't like that news."
Coran sneered. Tesen and his feelings, the Dark Dweller would be better to live in the present and leave the touch of time to those of pure blood. The Beast part of his heritage could not afford the toll. It would muddle his mind with past and future and leave no comprehension for now.
Damage was already done; the tunnels could not yet be completed, it would be an entire quarter season ahead of schedule if they were. More Light Dweller men gifted in earth had been obtained from the Capitol City, hidden beneath the Emperor's shadow all this time, in sight and disregarded like dirt beneath his feet. Gilth men who could labour earth were a great resource for construction, if unfortunate for their cause.
Still, it should not have been enough to complete the project, to complete the final link in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the ground, to connect every province across Niand and pump blood back into the Capitol. It would be another fortnight at the least.
"He said - su-suggested, you could visit him in Records before.."
The dweller stiffened to a stop, strangled again by his nerves.
"Before what?" Coran snapped.
"Be-before you end my time."
There would have been no need for Tesen to feel time for that possible future. All the Beast would need to do is send a fool boy to barge into his room on the perceived authority of vague feelings.
Coran grumbled under his breath. One night was all he wanted. A night to do as he pleased and not have the palace records descend to ruin. Of late, it was apparent that a reprieve was too much to take if he wanted things to be done right.
"When official news reaches the palace have the labourers executed."
The messenger nodded and made a move to leave.
"King Lut Laffir, of the Western Province will need to be informed. Send a Beast immediately with the details."
The boy froze and Coran eyed him, dared him to loose whatever stupid thought he held.
"It - it's daylight, My Lord," the boy stammered.
Coran's lip curled and the dweller faltered. Descendants from the Beast bloodline were the least hindered by the sunlight. Even children knew that. The boy nodded away his objection, stiff as he turned to leave again. Anger flared in Coran's chest and squeezed his fingers into fists.
"Do not turn your back on me," venom laced his words.
The boy spun back to face him. In a panic he dropped to his knees, his eyes on the floor and his head bowed to accept punishment.
"I-I'm sorry my Lord - please forgive my impatience. I only wish to see your word done."
Raids in the outer southern villages had already begun their return, he had seen to the arrival of the first. No gifted women were captured from that incursion. He had not heard reports from any others. If there was word from the South, Tesen had not informed him.
Emperor Da'Rakal would have word from the raid on the port city. Coran glanced at the message in his hand. By the rushed way Rakal's summons was written, the need to share a friend's company had taken his priority upon arrival.
"Have the Raids in the South turned up any gifted?"
"I.. I don't know, my Lord," the messenger said, to the ground he knelt on, "there have been rumours from the west.."
He trailed off and peered up. Lack of success in the south was no real hindrance. Awakened or not, the women would serve the men well. Coran turned his back on the dweller. Come dusk the rumours from the West would be dealt with, regardless of their legitimacy. He stepped over the dead girl and grabbed his trousers.
"Alert Calleer of the tunnel's apparent completion. Have him assemble a contingent ready to move west."
He would retire Tesen and see to the records himself. After he saw to Rakal's summons. If it was good news his friend wanted to share it might be a while before he saw to the time muddled Beast. Coran found his shirt draped over the arm of a chair and pulled it on. He slumped into it to work on his boots.
The messenger looked up at him with those purple eyes. Just like Calleer's. Maybe less smug, though the boy could not express any pride hunched on the stone ground like that if he tried. More foolish words would come forth, they were written on the boy's face.
"Some gilth women from the south arrived earlier in the night," the boy said.
Coran scowled at him. He already knew that. There was a Southern Light Dweller on his floor. Waves of her golden hair, common in the south, were spilled across the stone right in front of him. The look that crossed his features told Coran he had realised how stupid he sounded. He had no patience to restrain himself and no more time to waste on stupidity, so he left his rebuke as cold silence.
He rose, stepped over the corpse to fetch his cloak from the back of another chair. The boy remained crouched on the stone of his room. It would not be a surprise to find him there when he returned, in wait of a formal dismissal. Coran stared at the top of his black haired head. It took the fool a long while to find the courage to peek up. He flinched and opened his mouth.
"What are you waiting for?"
Coran spoke before the boy could test his patience further.
"Yes - sorry, Zien Xor'Coran," the boy said.
Taken by a need to rush, he sprung to his feet, bowed and hurried for the doors.
Coran pulled on his cloak. In the corner of his eye his bed lingered. Daylight, the boy had said. He had lost time. The thought settled a weight on his shoulders, enough to push him to the edge of unease, not enough to throw his balance. Rest could wait.
He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and turned from his room, bed ignored and Light Dweller's corpse forgotten.