"Am I to cast a Shadow?"

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Gahlran knelt before his Emperor in a chamber of gold.

Every surface reflected a resplendent sheen that blinded him.

“What is this place?” he asked.

“Many things,” Calus replied, lounging with his cheek in his palm. “This chamber once held an Arkborn. The only one of her kind to leave the interstellar conduits of her people. It is the place where Valus Nohr earned her shield in trial by combat. Shadows were cast here. History made.”

“Am I to cast a Shadow?”

“Yes. You were bred to be a sorrow-bearer. I seek a Hive commander, but those are not so readily available. So I made you.”

“The Council says the Hive cannot be contained. They worry.”

Calus raised an eyebrow. “Who among them?”

“Councilors Rahl and Verloren.”

The Emperor shook the golden chamber with his guffaw. “Only a few hours old, and already your words have killed two.”

Gahlran pondered what his Emperor could mean.

“I will enjoy you,” Calus said, and keyed a hidden control on the armrest of his divan.

The ceiling shrieked as it opened like an eye. Gahlran craned his neck to stare as two hovering Councilors descended with a massive, plated helm from the vast iris above.

He could hear a litany of voices shouting down at him from inside the thing as it slowly descended. He thought they sounded like warnings, but there were no discernible words in the speech.

“What is that?” he asked his Emperor.

Calus finished the Royal nectar in his chalice before belching, “Your crown.”

Gahlran thought he could glimpse a faint violet glow on the inside of the helm as it drew nearer.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Calus asked, as the voices echoing from the helm grew louder.

“No,” Gahlran replied.

He thought he should run. He tried to stand, but he found that he could not, rooted to the floor before the Emperor’s throne by the will of the Councilors.

“I do not like this,” Gahlran said.

“This,” said Calus, as the Councilors crowned Gahlran, “is why you were born.”

The violet interior filled Gahlran’s vision.

“What does it feel like?” asked the Emperor.

“Fear,” Gahlran said.

Calus must have responded, but Gahlran couldn’t hear him over the cacophony of voices.

He suddenly found that he could see.

Through a hundred billion eyes.

And that he could eat.

With teeth enough to consume entire systems.

He felt beautiful.