Strangebinding came on the heels of the phantom and deadbinding fashions, and required a slow immersion, with plenty of blind solitary confinement for a number of days until the subject was calm and had come to comfort in the host body. Domesticated animals were always preferred over wild, as the soul tended to blend somewhat with the body’s natural tendencies. Hounds, felines, larger birds. No example of a fish strangebond ever survived. Compared to the deadbound, such as soulblades, madness was mightily decreased, and yet it was still spurned by the greater population.
From ‘The Binding Light’, by the Nyxite Shamas
Her footsteps fell with the steady but fervent beat of a smith’s hammer. They echoed along the voluminous corridor, making her sound like a dozen. Ahead stood a grand doorway of varnished foreign wood, copper and gold. On either side of it were stationed two Royal Guards. They stood at attention, with their wicked, hooked spears raised high and at arm’s length. She watched them intently as she marched, daring them to move: a twitch, a shift of their features through their golden faceplates, a ripple in their turquoise capes. Anything for an excuse to ruin their perfect poise. To her annoyance, they remained like statues. On any other day, she would have walked leisurely down the sun-painted corridor and made them tremble with the effort. But on a day like today, Empress-in-Waiting, Sisine Talin Renala the Thirty-Seventh did not have time for such torture.
‘Out of my way!’ she yelled from a dozen paces away. The guards withdrew rapidly with bowed heads.
‘The doors, curse you!’
Shining gauntlets yanked at ropes, and the doors swung open just wide enough for her to enter.
After the opulence of the corridor, the antechamber beyond felt austere. A solitary bench, all sandalwood and silver swirls, sat in the centre of the circular room. Aureate lamplight spilled from plated sconces set into the plain marble. Another door stood in front of her, far mightier than the one behind her and far more decorative. It was not tall or square, but circular and formidable like the door of a half-coin vault. And rightly so, for this was the emperor’s Sanctuary; her father’s answer to the cutthroat tendencies of his family and countless subjects. A fine solution for the person inside it, but highly inconvenient for all those outside.
The Sanctuary was armoured with gold and copper, and across the flawless metal were engraved scenes of ancestral battles and hordes of subjects prostrate before pyramids. The royal seal of a spiked crown and half-coin hung above them, surrounded by a bloom of desert flowers made of steel. At the doorway’s centre, five holes were arranged in a circle. No jewels were clasped there, and no jewels ever would be, for the gods were dead and these were keyholes for highly coveted keys. Only one jewel graced the door, and that sat between the keyholes: a diamond the width of Sisine’s palm, glowing gold with the lamplight. A deadlock, they called it; a lock that would rip the soul from any that tried to tamper with the Sanctuary. Sisine’s fingers traced its frozen, glasslike surface.
If one looked closely at the door, they might have seen fine gaps that betrayed hidden hatches. One such hatch was placed at the bottom of the door, and it was perfectly scroll-sized.
Sisine rattled through the ritual. First she knelt, then bowed to recite the salutation. ‘May your reign be long and prosperous, my emperor, powerful of strength and mind, lord of all the sun touches. May both the living and the dead remember your name throughout all ages to come.’
Two knocks sounded and the small hatch popped. A stubby scroll was pushed through. No sooner had she grasped it did the hatch shut with a clang. She knocked twice on the door, and waited.
‘Father?’ she called softly. ‘Can you hear me?’
No answer came. Just the whack of a hand against the other side of the door, several feet away.
‘Suit yourself,’ Sisine snarled. ‘The Cloud Court awaits me.’ With the scroll gripped in both hands, she swept from the room, her raven-coloured hair trailing behind her like a banner.
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