All pre-publication material is subject to edits/change. Copyright 2015 M.M. Kin
Prince Kuoji stared at the vista that spread out before him, the white towers of the Palace of the Sun jutting up into the sky like an ivory dagger. Bleached from several centuries' worth of sunlit days, the pale stone was visible from miles around. To the people of the kingdom of Corona, the Palace was a testament of beauty and strength, and a symbol of the gods' blessings upon the land.
A faint smirk appeared on his lips as he recalled his time spent within the Palace. Back then he'd been nothing more than a servant, the bastard son of a woman who'd been taken as a concubine by an Atyamai man before she'd managed to escape him while she was pregnant. He'd endured the scorn and prejudice of adults and children alike due to his obvious mixed heritage.
It'd been nearly a decade since he'd last seen this place. However, he was no longer someone to be looked down at. When he set foot into the Palace, it would not be as a lowly half-breed servant. It would be as Prince of the Atyamai, son of the Emperor Imonje. He would relish the expression on King Helin's face when the old man saw who it was that had come to take his crown away from him.
He turned his head, his dark green eyes fixing upon the woman next to him. With hair as dark as his own, and skin like alabaster, the similarity between the two could not be missed despite the fact that he was only half Atyamainese. It'd been remarked upon more than once in the Imperial Court how the two could have such similar facial expressions. She had a slight smile on her lips that mirrored his own.
“How does it feel? Experiencing any nostalgia?” the woman asked, her eyes as dark as her hair as she regarded him. Like him, she was clad in armor of exquisite quality, lightweight compared to the traditional armor generally worn in Corona, yet no less efficient in its design, especially considering its wearer.
“Perhaps a bit, Aunt. However, I can assure you, that is no impediment to our goal.”
“I did not think it would be. However, I know there is a prize you seek. I will not impede you from it, but I must remind you that a long time has passed.” Her voice was gentle, yet carried an undertone of steel.
He took a deep breath. Azami was right, and he was already aware of the possibilities. Things could, and usually did, change with the passing of years, and people certainly were no exception to the rule. He'd been aware of this truth for years, especially as his own person was evidence of just how much weight this maxim held. In his case, the changes had been positive. He could only hope that for the person he longed to see, the years had not eroded away the positive things he remembered.
“We will see what happens. My commitment to our goal will remain the same regardless of what happens.”
Azami's smile became warmer. “I only want to see you happy.”
His response to that was a brief nod before he turned around to face the army that was massed before him and his aunt. Banners of white fluttered in the breeze, the black shape on them easily discernible as a hand with its palm facing the viewer, its fingers and thumb straight as if to signal 'stop'. The sigil was recognized across the empire of Atyamai, and even in Corona, where this dark hand stood for their greatest enemy. In reality, it was the crest of the rulers of Atyamai, the dark hand a literal and figurative symbol of their power.
One of the generals approached the pair, bowing his head before looking up at them.
“The men are in readiness, and those in the Palace are prepared for their part.”
“Excellent,” Azami replied. “Let us tarry no longer, then.” She lightly dug her heels into the side of her russet-colored horse, and Kuoji did the same, setting his own ebony steed in a brisk trot.
Seemingly as one, the army moved, the blacks and grays of the massed soldiers making it seem as if a shadow was moving across the verdant land.