Jareth Aincroft takes a long time to die.

You sit in your assigned seat impotently, not wanting to watch, but also unable to tear your eyes away from the horrific spectacle – the sight of your oldest friend being burned to death…

Hours pass – or perhaps only minutes that feel like hours. It is impossible to tell through the blanket of fog that has enveloped your thoughts. At some point, you apparently get to your feet again – but you cannot remember doing so.

And yet, you must have – because when the tall man turns to leave the platform you are already on your feet, staring up at him blankly as he strides past.

His official title is Lord Gudrunn. Unofficially, in the title he relishes most, he is known as The Sorcerer King. You and the other man on the platform know him by a less formal title.

“Father,” you say with a low, mechanical bow as he passes.

He does not deign to reply.

The other man gives you a smirk as straightens from his own bow, then turns to face you.

“High Inquisitor Xevan,” he says mockingly.

“High Chancellor Shimran,” you reply evenly, bowing to your half-brother.

Though 11 years younger, than your 35 years, Shimran gained your father’s favor at an early age and now keeps it through an ever-escalating series of clever manipulations and betrayals.

Distrusted and hated in equal measure by all his siblings, the Lord’s Council, and the general populace of Gramadon, Shimran has carved out an unassailable place for himself in the royal hierarchy – at the expense of any hope of a real connection with another human being.

Though your height crosses 6 feet and you tower over most of the non-royal inhabitants of the castle, Shimran stands almost a full head above you, far closer to 7 feet tall. Though, he is much thinner than you are. Often, in the relative safety of your mind, you have compared him to a gangly weed.

As usual, it takes all of your willpower not to reach up and punch Shimran in his ever-present smug smirk. He seems to know exactly what you are thinking, gazing down at you and quirking an eyebrow in silent challenge.

You can’t help but glance at the smoldering remains of what used to be a good man before refocusing on Shimran.

After a few moments, a self-satisfied twinkle creeps into his eyes and he turns and strides off after Lord Gudrunn. A few steps later, he pauses and looks back at you over his shoulder.

“By the by… Xevvy,” he says goadingly, “it’s almost time for your review, isn’t it? I’ll be sure to consider your exemplary performance today.”

He turns to leave once more, but cannot resist one final jab.

“Do give my regards to Lady Amadalia, won’t you?”

Instinctively, your hands clench into fists, but Shimran strides off before you have a chance to make a terrible decision.

What do you do?

>> Return to the castle [ Chapter 12 ]

>> Speak with Jareth’s wife [ Chapter 10 ]