SHADOW QUEEN
by Chris Cook



The Haemonculus looked from the Archon to the other figure before him, then back.

"Whatís she doing here," he demanded, "I said we meet alone." The Archon smiled lazily.

"Oh, I never go anywhere without my Hierarch. Am I to take it you disapprove?"

"Our agreement was to meet alone. That agreement is terminated," he hissed, making a gesture to something in the darkness behind him. Silently, several shapes detached from the shadows. The mandrakes moved forward without a sound, their darkened blades ready to strike. They circled the Archon and Hierarch, then leapt forward as one.

"You know," the Archon said, ducking out of the way of a mandrake who smashed to the ground, "she was just a pathetic nobody sorceress on an isolated, backward little world when I found her. But as you can see, sheís come a long way since then. Isnít she just beautiful?" The Haemonculus released a flow of toxins over the blades on his hand as a pair of mandrakes sunk to the ground, knives forced through each other's torsos.

"And of course," the Archon continued, slowly advancing, "she is gifted in making sure I get what I want. All the secret deals, the alliances, this delicate waltz through your maze of petty feuds and vendettas... to be honest, it bores me. I donít know what Iíd do without her. Oh, by the way," the Archon added, her hands moving so fast they were a blur, "I really do need your skills. It would be a shame to waste them. Donít you think?"

The Archon released the torturerís shattered hand. The blades dropped to the ground, their clatter mingling with the crunch of the last mandrake's neck.

"Good girl," said the Archon lightly as her companion stepped away from the scattered bodies. "I think this gentleman is willing to help us. See that he joins the others."



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