Replacements

Kerrith swept into the room, hand upon the sheath of his curved sword. As promised, Cerina had cleared the chambers for him. Unattended pillows and divans covered the crimson stone of the floor and a shallow gilded pool sparkled in the open air. For only a moment he thought back to his younger days and the hours and eternities he’d spent here.

He exhaled, letting the memories go. Those times were many decades past and his business here was very different now. Someone slipped from the side rooms. “Everything is prepared.” She said glancing back through the curtains she’d stepped from. Kerrith ignored her state of undress, her smooth curves covered only by the silken sheet held across her chest.

“Cerina?” Kerrith asked.

Something dark and amused sparkled in the depths of the girl’s eyes before it was blinked away. “The mistress is in the gardens with the girls. She’s keeping them occupied. As ordered.”

Kerrith had asked nothing of the sort. It meant Cerina was avoiding him again. A shame, he liked her help with matters like this. Better than the shark eyed thing in front of him. “Of course. Come then. You remember the words?”

“Like it was a moment ago.” The words had an edge and the girl’s smile was sharp. She pulled aside the curtain and ducked her head in a gesture of respect, though not low enough in his opinion. Inside his subject waited. The room was decorated with the same sheer blankets and wide cushions as the main chamber.  On a low set divan a young man stirred briefly in unconsciousness, hands bound to the delicate rosewood backing. Hardly into adulthood and already coming to visit these chambers daily if Kerrith’s reports were accurate.

A life, especially one so blessed, on a path to waste. Kerrith shook his head. If ever he needed a reminder, this was it.  Kerrith withdrew a small black book from his pocket and passed it to the girl without taking his eyes from the boy.

The ritual was short, especially with two. The girls murmured words were precise as she half read from the twisting script of Kerrith’s notes, Kerrith chanting the same from memory. Finally the boy groaned and opened his eyes. They were the blue of a winter night. He was handsome and young, as usual they all possessed such promise.

“Wha—“ The question choked off as the young man’s body strained against the bonds, his muscles twitching, fighting themselves. Neither Kerrith nor the girl stopped the calm dark words.

Finally with one last silent scream, eyes bulging against his sockets, it ended. The boy collapsed; limbs hanging over the edges of the cushions. The girl snapped the book closed and leaned forward.

Kerrith sighed, feeling exhaustion settle into his shoulders. Successful or not, these things wore on a person. The young man stirred. He groaned and then paused. It was with a cautious air the youth opened his eyes and looked up at them. “Mortal fool.” The boy hissed, the words slurred. It was still feeling its way around having a tongue. His eyes flicked to the girl next to Kerrith and his expression softened.

“What is your name?” Kerrith asked, impatient. He had other matters to attend to. The gods below knew you could only keep a harem closed for so long.

The boy’s eyes, now a cloudy black haze over the azure of before, narrowed violently in defiance. “Release me and I will tell you.”

The common ploy elicited a rare snort from Kerrith. “Yes yes, in time. I know your name Qehr. I placed you in that body with it. But your name now, your new one.”

The boy cocked his head back considering the much older man in front of him. Finally his mouth twitched into a vicious smile. “I’m royalty. Prince Ulhim. Though the tenth son, so very nearly not.” The prince’s smile twisted, displeased at his new station. Kerris still marveled how quickly the things fell into the mannerisms and personalities of their deceased hosts. Even the prince’s blue eyes had returned to their normal azure state. Kerris could feel the girl next to him smiling; she’d been one of the first he’d placed in palace.

“Reika will explain your duties and responsibilities. For your sake I pray you do a better job than the real Ulhim.” Kerrith said flatly. He glanced at Reika as he left, Kerrith had very little knowledge of the things internal politics, or how they interacted with each other, but Reika had never failed Cerina since Kerris had placed her in the harem. It was an odd sort of trust, knowing the things would act as they should, and as they’re predecessors should have.

Kerrith left the harem, the murmur of the thing’s voices following him from it.

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