Within the palace walls, everything felt close, almost stifling. It felt as every eye watched, critical of her every move; as if her life were now under close scrutiny and the world waited for a single mistake to be made. It made it difficult to know who to trust, but there were stalwarts here, men and women loyal to the Empire that would not be so easily turned by the Whiteblood. There were also those who were suspect.
Lord Cyto Kine was the current Minister of War, but long had he opposed Alane’s rule, oftentimes undermining her authority during council sessions or circumventing her plans. His machinations were always subtle, but Alane was wise enough to the ways of her own court that she knew. Once, she might have drawn him up on charges of conspiracy, but the Whiteblood that served as her guard had turned against her, leaving her near-defenseless in a den of lions. She could not afford to show any weakness. Not now.
As if the very thought of him conjured the man, the hulking shadow of the Lord fell over Alane as she passed through the doorway into her audience chamber. It was empty at this time of night, bereft of the many courtiers that flit and fluttered, trying to catch the eye or attention of the Empire. There was no one, then, to see as Lord Cyto reached out to take hold of Alane’s arm as she passed him, jerking it back hard to force the Empress to stop. A sickening thread of hatred and anger rippled through Alane, but it was only a passing look of irritation that crossed her features.
“Unhand me, Minister.” She said with deliberate care. “The hour is late and I am weary.”
“Oh, a thousand apologies, Your Majesty, I only wanted to make sure that you were all right after seeing that frightful display outside. How it must wound you, Ma’am, to see our beloved city brought so low.”
“It would wound me more if the Empire were actually guilty of the upsets that the Whiteblood give us claim to, but we cannot blame the people for being lost and confused when our own Imperial Guard have turned against us. Still, the foul roots of this tree will be excavated eventually and the offenders dealt with. We have no fear of that.” Alane extricated her arm from Lord Cyto’s grip with a twist of her wrist, then stepping out of his immediate range lest he catch her again.
“How brave you are, Ma’am,” he said, looking past her to the empty room beyond. “For someone so alone.”
She inclined her chin with pride. “We are not alone as one might think. Have faith, Lord Cyto. There are those loyal to us still.” With that, she took herself across the audience hall and beyond into her private chambers.
Lord Cyto watched her go, his eyes narrowing a fraction. “Not for long…” he murmured darkly to himself. “Not for long.”