The door at the far end of the throne room opened, an elaborate red-scaled knight entering. Her cloak, bearing the emblem of Keldrath, trailed behind her as she approached the throne. She saluted. “Captain Varix for you, sire. Shall I bring her in?”
The black scalar in the throne straightened his posture, rising from his relaxed position to one more befitting Scale’s king. Valasar stretched his neck, the shimmering rainbow light dancing on his face through the glass walls of the palace. He nodded. The Red Claw crossed back to the main entrance, opening it and exchanging some words before nodding to the Blue nearby. The two Claws opened the grand double doors as one, revealing a woman clad in the livery of the 3rd Legion – emblazoned with the image of a grasping black claw.
Captain Korren Varix walked slowly forward, her footsteps echoing around the huge palace. Her king in his throne stared her down as she did so, and she shivered. When she was a few paces ahead of the steps leading up to where Valasar sat, she kneeled.
Valasar exhaled slowly, dim murmurations of orange flame flickering faintly at the back of his nostrils. “What news do you bring?” He knew already, and he knew Varix knew this, it was apparent in everything – the cowed way the ruthless captain now carried herself, the wounds on her face, the tears in her livery – but he took pleasure in exercising his power.
“We were…unsuccessful, sire,” Varix said, still kneeling, “their forces were too great.”
Valasar crossed his arms, leaning back slightly in the throne. “Unsuccessful? I do not follow. You mean you were not able to raze the temple?” He smiled slightly as Varix squirmed.
“No, sire, we were not.”
“But you captured the traitors?”
Varix grimaced. “No sire, they—”
Valasar’s eyes widened in mock surprise and he stood. “You did not? But I was given to understand this was a modest task for you, captain. Was our intelligence wrong?”
Varix remained kneeling, not making eye contact with her king. She had seen him play this game before, but had never been on the losing side of it. “No, sire.”
“What then, pray tell, could have caused the mighty 3rd Legion, those Scale turns to with tasks of the utmost import, to have failed in even this simple undertaking?” Valasar walked slowly down the steps, drawing his words out to punctuate them appropriately, until he stood inches in front of the captain.
“There were extraneous circumstances, sire.”
“Additional forces, sire. The 6th Legion—”
“Captain, I think you’ll find the 6th Legion remain in Keld Rock, exactly where they should be.”
“Not all of them, sire, a rebel branch—”
Valasar placed one boot under Varix’s chin, raising her head to face him. “You mean to tell me, captain, that the mighty 3rd Legion were unable to deal with the threat posed by a band…of deserters? Did they outwit you?” There was a mock sincerity in his voice.
“Perhaps they talked your men to their side with honeyed words?”
“No, sire, they—”
“The equipment I granted your unit was not enough?”
The Scalelord motioned his head towards the Red Claw by the door. “Perhaps Clan Keldrath’s standards have slipped?”
Varix clenched her jaw. “No, sire.”
Valasar regarded the others in the room, before returning his gaze to Varix. “What then, captain?”
Varix sighed, regarding her king with a look of defeat. She had to force the words out. “They were stronger than us.”
Valasar looked into Korren’s eyes for a long moment. From the door, the red-scaled knight crossed, drawing her blade. Varix turned to look, knowing already what was coming. She straightened her back, holding her head high, staring straight ahead. She would face it with dignity. The Red Claw stopped behind the captain, looking to her Scalelord for a moment, and raised her sword.
“Wait.” Valasar held up a gauntleted finger. Varix did not move her gaze, and the Scalelord knelt to meet it, whispering to her slowly. “You have failed me, captain, and I do not tolerate failure. But I suspect you will not shy away from an opportunity for revenge.”
Varix continued to stare ahead. She let the words sit in the air a moment, before replying. “No, sire. I will not.” Her voice trembled slightly.
Valasar stood to his feet once more, his glass armour singing slightly as he did so. He turned to the knight. “Ten lashes for every surviving legionary,” he said, looking once more at the captain, “Varix will administer them.”
The Claw nodded, and pulled Varix to her feet, leading the captain out of the throne room.
Valasar returned to the throne, watching as the captain left. When she reached the door, he spoke once more.
“Be ruthless, captain.”