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The Bird Empress

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On her thirtieth birthday, Fazia found the jewel.

It was an odd, purplish gem - not an amethyst, not a sapphire, more like some kind of indigo obsidian than anything else. It was a largeish stone, a bit larger than her closed fist, and lumpy, not cut and polished like most gems she saw. Perhaps that was what drew her eye to it in the first place.

The merchant saw her glance and said, hesitantly, "I found it by a stream in Udayapur, Highness."

Fazia graced him with a cool glance. "What kind of stone is it?"

"I don't know, Highness," the merchant said, casting his eyes down in shame at not providing a better answer. "My sister the windspeaker says that it has some deep power, but she could not touch it, and my cousin at the University could only say he does not think it is a mage-made artifact."

"How much are you selling it for?" Fazia asked.

The merchant bowed. "For you, highness, there is no charge." He picked up the curious stone gently and held it out to her.

Fazia nodded regally to him, and took the stone.

***

The curious stone was strangely warm. Fazia put it in her bedroom, in her inner sanctuary where no one, save the slaves, would dare enter.

She did not know quite why, but she did not want anyone to know she had the stone.

Actually, Fazia knew precisely why. There was something special about this stone, and if there was anything special about anything, her brother wanted it, even if only to destroy it.

Fazia gently stroked the stone again, watching the very faintest of sparks trail beneath its surface in her fingers' wake. Sometimes, it felt almost alive. Sometimes, it thrummed with a kind of power, that she, even magicless as she was, could still sense, trembling on the edges of her awareness.

It seemed to be waiting, though Fazia hadn't the faintest clue for what.

***

One of Fazia's ladies shook her awake. Fazia glared the woman out of her room and rose, taking the time to make sure she was perfectly presentable.

There was only one person who would dare wake her in the dead of night, and Ozorne would certainly expect his sister to be impeccable.

Sure enough, it was the Emperor himself at her door. Outwardly, he looked solemn, even mournful, but Fazia was not his older sister for nothing.

A chill ran down her spine. "Harib is dead," she said flatly. Behind her, the lady who woke her gasped.

Ozorne graced her with a solemn nod, the perfect picture of a sorrowed emperor, grieving for his sister's loss. "He was leading a charge against the Sirajit rebels," he said, voice almost soft enough to hide the tremor of glee. "The charge was successful, but the prince was killed by the enemy."

Oh, yes. Fazia was sure he had been, just as Ozorne had arranged. And if her husband had failed to die at the hands of his enemies, Fazia was sure that there were plenty of loyal subjects waiting to make sure he died anyway.

Unconsciously, Fazia's hands fisted at her sides. "Get out," she snapped, viper-soft. She took a step forward, and she had no idea what she meant to do, but Ozorne simply stepped back, out into the hall, and smiled softly, the concerned and understanding little brother. He left.

Some things were allowable in grief, at least if you were the emperor's older sister and it was the dead of night. There would be no repercussions of this.

For Fazia, anyway.

This time, when the stone thrummed with eerie, waiting power, the pulse didn't fade, and Fazia didn't turn away.

***

The Dominion Jewel, Chitral thought, was not really meant to be used as a bludgeon, though it supposed that, like any decently-sized rock, it was perfectly serviceable as such.

Princess Fazia herself walked to the Carthaki throne, still in her bloodstained dress and veil, as icy as all the snows of the Roof. In her hand, she held the Jewel, and no mortal looking at it would ever realize it had just been used to commit a murder.

Fazia strode to the golden throne of the Emperor, turned imperiously to face the nobles who had hastily gathered in the hall, swept her skirts out around her, and sat. Her frozen amber eyes dared anyone to speak.

A sudden flurry broke the tension as birds, dozens of bright, jewel-toned birds, settled themselves about the throne and dais. One tiny purple sunbird landed on the princess' head and fluffed its indigo feathers in contentment.

The stone cradled on Fazia's lap shimmered as if in reply, and one by one the hesitant nobles knelt to their new Empress.

Somewhere very far away, Chitral laughed.