"The tragic, untimely death of my most revered older brother, Tasrelius, has me addressing you this morning with a broken heart," Zaelus said, tears pooling in the corners of his eyes. "Fate has seen fit to lay my family low in the last several weeks. I know that the loss of Tasrelius, as well as the disappearance of my Father and Brothers, wounds you all as esteemed retainers of our House. Though you should all join me in mourning, do not fear for the strength of Umbralflare. We are the light in the darkness; even a lone flame will persevere." Zaelus seated himself then in the chair at the head of the table.
The Luminaries all bowed in salute. Some were also mournful, some were simply respectful, all seemed ready to submit. That was a good thing, Zaelus thought. It was tricky to have orchestrated this coup d’etat. Perhaps it was a coup de’famille. Zaelus lowered his head, to continue looking the part, and to hide the fact that his false tears had run out. The retainers got up and departed without bothering him.
Once they’d gone, Zaelus rose, wearing the same dispassionate expression as always. “Lynne, is Master Zahed still here?” he inquired coolly, turning to his attendant, who seemed shocked by his proficient deception. She took a moment to snap out of it. “You mean my father’s pet human? Yes, he’s quartered in your wing of the Hall. Should I send for him?” she said, the level of distaste in her voice apparent. “If an apprentice is a pet, what does that make you?” Zaelus teased, smirking lightly. “No need to summon him, just let him know my part of the plan is done. Instruct him to tell Dawncrest “Steelcry”,” he said flatly, his lack of enthusiasm ever more apparent. Lynne puffed out her cheek to pout at Zaelus’ stinging return. “Just “Steelcry”? As you say, Zaelus. I’ll be back shortly.” “Oh, you can meet me in my study, actually, I’ll be heading back,” he answered, collecting his reports and tapping them straight against the desk.
She started out of the room, and stopped just short of the threshold. “You know, for a minute back there you had me convinced that you had a soul,” she said, ruefully. Rueful not because there was a lie, but because occasionally she wished she wasn’t in on it. Zaelus turned and smiled at her. “If I had a soul, it would fight me every step of the way. I will go to any lengths to bring about prosperity for those I serve. The commoners whom depend on us, the retinue that support us, and your Father…” he said, his voice eerily stern. Effectively silenced by his last, Lynne left to go and deliver his message.
"It is done. Master Zahed has departed," Lynne reported quietly upon entering the study. When she lifted her head she could only see Zaelus’ back silhouetted against the dim, warm light of the fireplace in the dark study. She tensed. This was something he did when he was upset, usually. But everything had gone so smoothly, he’d gotten what he wanted. "Thank you, Lynne. If you wish, you may take the rest of the evening off. You’ve been working hard," he said quietly, his low voice scarcely crossing the room.
She drew nearer to him slowly, her plated gauntlets clasped over one another at her waist. “My Lord..?” She sounded worried. “You only address me that way when you’re mad,” he said shakily as he turned. His eyes were red. That didn’t seem fake. She was stunned into silence. “I-I’m sorry. Zaelus,” she corrected quickly. He smiled faintly, and turned back to the fire. “I am fine. Don’t get into too much trouble tonight, hm?” She had no idea how to respond to that. She studied his shoulders. His strong posture was still there, but that as a face she’d never witnessed before, in decades of service to the Umbralflares. She cautiously stepped back, then turned and left.
"Surely a villain deserves at least this much respite," Zaelus thought, pressing his left hand against his eye in an effort to relieve the headache they’d caused. "If I’m only relying on Vironas, I’ll die as the man who only did the wrong things for the right reasons.. Serving someone who only operates in secret, well.. That means no one knows there were ‘right reasons’… How could I leave that sort of legacy for my family? Tarnishing the names of my forebears, causing trouble for my successors."
He reflected on the woman he’d met in the courtyard of Aeviry’s estate. Saphrael, she’d said. A Lady of propriety, obviously, it was written everywhere in her disposition. Generous and friendly with a stranger, an intruder, moreover. Strong in the face of adversity, strong enough to survive it at the very least. She wasn’t at all unlike that Bladerunner fellow he’d met all those weeks ago. “Even if you’re not around to compliment, those who serve you demonstrate great character. You should be proud, as their lord…” he mused aloud, gazing deep into the flames. “If they’re all as honorable and virtuous as I expect, maybe I could be their villain… This suffering would be worthwhile, if it meant good people could preside once I’m..” He stopped. He wasn’t just moping and mewling now, he was being morbid. Unforgivable. What if Lynne, or anyone else, had seen him like this?