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The unfamiliar feeling of sun upon her skin faded. It was replaced with the familiar bite of a chill breeze. The dazzle of the sun was also gone. In its place was the usual grey of clouds and the steady sound of rain. In this instance, the usual and the familiar did little to calm her nerves.

Ejana busied herself by closing the windows and drawing the curtains shut. She allowed herself a brief moment to marvel at the window. Not at the furnishings, which by Imperial standards were nothing of note, but at the window itself. I see it every day, but it’s still a beautiful thing. How do they make it? At her core, Ejana was still the daughter of a cleric and memories of her impoverished childhood had not yet left her even after five years in the service of Emperor Brennus.

‘I beg your leave, your Imperial Majesty,’ the big man managed to have such a dull tone. With his broad shoulders and strong features, Ejana may have found Bastian Urquhart attractive had she not known him for the monster that he truly was.

‘Stay. Watch and enjoy,’ the voice came from near the door. It had more hiss to it than no human voice should because its owner was decidedly not human. It elicited an audible grunt from Urquhart and a wry smile from the Emperor.

Ejana tried not to flinch. That one is a monster of a different sort. She attempted to clear her mind as she fussed over the uneaten food and straightened the odd book or manuscript. All the while she shot surreptitious glances at the reptilian creature near the door. Is it man or woman?

The Balaur’s Maiden threw her cloak towards Ejana. Her figure, covered by a sleeveless white dress, marked her as female. A thin belt drew the dress close to her body and further accentuated the serpentine movements of her hips as she walked. Green and brown scales covered most of her body. There were some parts, like the insides of her arms, were the scales gave way skin of an unnatural pallor.

Ejana caught the cloak. Rather, the cloak landed across Ejana’s shoulder. She felt ashamed that she was distracting herself from the Maiden’s stare by admiring the softness of the fur-lined cloak. ‘Bring the old man,’ the Maiden hissed. Ejana tried to contain her relief, but that was short lived. ‘Return with him. You may be needed.’

‘Go, girl. Return to us swiftly and alone,’ Brennus spoke in quiet tones. His fingers steepled in front of his plain, round face. He may not have looked the part of an emperor, but his ability to be commanding was not lost on Ejana.

‘General, this is Valda Dafin,’ Ejana heard the excitement in the Emperor’s voice. ‘She will help with our investigation.’ Ejana shuddered as she closed the door behind her.

CW SY 2013