This scene takes place right before the last scene in book one and was the original prologue for book two.
The en-blade rose and fell in time with his steps. Up, down, diagonal, side-to-side. Each slash precise. Pristine. As meticulous and powerful as the man executing them.
Harlow's feet whispered across stone as he moved through fighting forms with the same ease with which he'd greet an old friend. Sweat slid down his chest as his powerful arms lifted the blade again and again.
The hall of warriors was still dark, cast in shadow, only the faintest flicker of helo lamps highlighting the stone and wood. Night still held sway, dawn barely kissing the horizon. Hours from now, when the sun dominated the sky, the hall would come alive, slightly chaotic as the warriors put in their time with the blade, striving for a perfection that could never be won—but had to be sought nevertheless.
Harlow had always preferred the peace and solitude of this hour, relaxing into the quiet as he created his own beauty in the expression of his movements.
It helped to soothe the raw edges of his soul, instilling a bit of calm in an otherwise turbulent universe. Today, he needed that more than ever. His skin itched with the need for action.
His kind were volatile. Inaction made their natural disposition to violence more extreme. Burning some of that excess energy off was a necessary task. Idle Tuann were dangerous Tuann, prone to easily prodded tempers. Victims to their own bad judgment.
It was their curse—and their gift.
Harlow was a man who prized control above all things. Hence his daily meeting with the en-blade.
After so many years as a warrior, the blade was now an extension of himself. As familiar as his own hand.
He was tireless, merciless, as he cut, the slight whistle of the blade slashing the air the only accompaniment to his steady breathing.
He was a big man but he moved like a cat across the floor dancing from one side to the other in a graceful display of power as he began to incorporate the warrior kattas that made up his practice.
His mother had started him on this path when he could barely take his first step. Now, little thought was required to move through the sword's dance. Pushing away the clamor of the world was second nature as he sunk into the complex movements, twisting powerfully through the forms.
With a long exhale he slid his blade into the last katta, stepping forward, his knee bending as his back leg and front arm straightened. He held the position for several long seconds before rising and lowering the blade so the tip pointed toward the ground.
"What news do you bring me?"
The oshota waiting silently in the shadows stepped forward, his gaze respectful as he approached his Overlord. "Silas and Quillon have confirmed it. She is Harding's child."
Outwardly, Harlow remained impassive as he stared unseeing at the stone that made up the walls of the training room, a place so steeped in tradition it seemed as if it had stood since the beginning of time and would remain long after his bones fell to dust.
"The Emperor's Face was right to call us then," Harlow finally said.
The oshota inclined his head. "His instincts were correct. There is no doubt. She is Roake."
Harlow wasn't surprised. He'd trained the boy himself until the emperor had called him to service. Graydon would know exactly what her presence would mean to him.
"Begin preparations," Harlow ordered, sheathing the en-blade.
"As you wish, overlord." The oshota bowed briefly at the waist before stalking away.
Harlow's feet whispered across the ground as he found himself drawn to the opposite end of the hall where banners representing the fallen hung. Countless banners lined the walls, overlapping with not a single inch of bare space from the floor to the ceiling a hundred feet overhead.
House Roake had never been a peaceful house. It showed here in the banners of the dead. The safety of their house came with a price, one paid in blood and tears.
His gaze moved over the banners. The oldest of them were faded and marked with age, the writing illegible. Most were half covered by those who'd fallen later. Roake only hung banners for those who died in service and defense of the house. To be added to the wall was considered one of the highest honors a member of the house could receive. The banners of those who'd died recently were still vivid and bright, the white letters of their names almost stark against the midnight blue of the banner.
Harlow ignored the old and the new, locating with the ease of long practice a banner larger than the rest where it rested midway up the wall in a place of honor. No other banner trespassed along its borders.
This one was half faded, the name not as crisp as it'd once been. Time was said to soften the loss even as it drained the banners of color, but Harlow still felt the person's absence as keenly as he had that first moment.
On the banner was written a name.
Harding. Harlow's younger twin brother, the other half of his soul and the former overlord.
The sins of the past wouldn't ruin the future.
"I will not fail her as I did you," he vowed.
The communicator on his desk chimed its signal announcing a personal communication on his encrypted line.
Harlow waved out the two oshota he'd been disciplining and waited until the door sealed behind them before he opened the line with a mental thought.
"Overlord." Silas's somber gaze met his. The man was one of the best when it came to mentoring and shepherding the young of the Fortress through to adulthood, preparing them to survive the dangers of the adva ka. Those who'd undergone his training passed with a higher rate of success than any others. Being trained by Silas was a near guarantee of a high-ranking place in the future.
Harlow took what the man had molded and shaped it further. His warriors were some of the best among the Tuann. Despite being a small house, few dared to test them. They knew Roake was merciless against their enemies. It had only taken a single demonstration of what they were willing to do for other Houses to back down.
Even the Emperor made use of their training, sending those who'd pledged their loyalty. No other House's warriors contained the reputation of his. They were the elite. The best of the best. Paid for in blood and reshaped in the crucible of fire.
"Old friend," Harlow greeted.
"I am sending you some of my personal feed." Silas didn't waste any time on pleasantries, correctly guessing his overlord wouldn't have the patience for them.
Colors and light took shape on the flat surface of his desk, a woman forming, her gaze piercingly intent. Her hair was the dark burgundy of her father, her eyes that of her mother's people.
"She resembles him," Harlow said in an emotionless voice.
The holovid began moving.
Harlow didn't react as a sword pierced her chest, her eyes widening in shock as blood bubbles formed at the corner of her mouth. That shock quickly changed to fear and then determination. It was like a glimpse of the past, her expression containing every inch of her father's stubbornness. A woman's face appeared above her shoulder, her expression mocking.
The first woman didn't react, her mouth forming a word as the sword was ripped from her chest. She hit her knees, still no fear on her face. Whatever she was staring at caused her to smile faintly before she toppled face first to the ground.
Her attacker sauntered toward the person recording.
Harlow almost missed the exact moment when things changed, when the tide of the battle shifted out of the attacker's favor.
The body of his niece stood, her skin darkening, violet symbols appearing on her body as if some invisible hand was writing them into her skin. Her eyes opened. The holovid blinked and she was behind her attacker, her hands reaching up and wrenching the woman's head sideways, breaking her neck with one well-placed blow.
Harlow froze the holovid, leaning forward to examine the woman's face. His niece.
"She's primus," he murmured.
"Yes. From the reactions of the humans, my guess is this wasn't her first time in this form," Silas agreed.
"How many of the markings does she have?" Harlow asked.
"According to Finn—all of them."
Harlow stilled, his gaze contemplative as he stared at the turbulent sea visible outside his window. "That is unexpected."
Not since the first Roake Overlord had there been another with a full set. In all those millennium the Mea'Ave had not determined another strong enough to carry the full weight of its will.
Unusual for it to make its claim on one exiled from her people.
"You know what to do," Harlow said.
Silas nodded. "Consider it done."
The holo vid disappeared leaving Harlow sitting alone in a silent room.
He leaned back and let out a heavy sigh. "Niece, fate has not been kind to you."
A silent nudge down along the network and his mind reached out to another's. The link opened.
"I have a favor to ask of you," Harlow said before the other could speak.
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