Harbinger - Part I. Calvin Crowner. “How do you feel?” Uskadesh’s voice cleaved through Zhah’s focus. Disappointment obvious on her face, a dulcet yet dangerous alto dripping from her lips: “I am as I should be.” The Queen’s offices held sound quite well. While comforts were normally minimal in Ter Mur – in-keeping with the austere ethics and ritual of her people -- Zhah often felt the need to retire to this space. She now felt the need to indulge in the deep crimson of the rugs beneath her talons. Often she’d allow her mind to drift in the tapestries, stories of battle and death sewn therein. Today a solitary slab of hand-crafted marble tore into every image shifting through her mind. The final resting place of the lady warrior bobbed as if a cork in a mass of dark water and shadow. Dark ripples spread from lovingly-carved white stone … now and then colliding and retreating against hidden walls. “Death of a friend does tend to set things in perspective, Young One.” Zhah paced the carpets in savage elegance, eyes downcast, savoring the texture embracing her calloused feet. “You are no longer a mentor, Uskadesh. I am now your Queen.” Silence. “And, I am in no mood to remind you.” Sapphire energy shone around her eyes, its light draping the corners of the room. Garnet arcs of magic popped between her fingertips, the temperature rose in the close quarters as she spit in a harsh gargish dialect. The once commander and now counselor felt a twinge and a recently mended ache settle between his shoulders. His left wing shifted lightly as his he lowered his head. “I apologize with all that I am, my Queen.” Zhah settled herself, anger-sheathed magic giving way to serenity as she breathed. “You have a mission today. I need you to find someone. We need to make certain the crystal is safe.” The cloaked ward of the Court sat near the door. Legs crossed at the ankles, red leather trousers cinched tightly as he drew forms in the air with his finger. Powdered sugar covered the man’s fingertips as he whispered, “No, no … cream? Perhaps pecan. But what if he’s not allergic to nuts? Nuts! That IS funny …” Uskadesh kept his eyes lowered, “As the People need, your Majesty. Shall I take this one with me?” His horns inclined toward the softly ranting man whose ponderings had moved on to cake flavored with glacier-shaved ice. “Melon. Mmmm.” Zhah kept her back to them both. Her eyes climbed upward, seeking something in the shadowed corners of the room on which to perch. Her voice rose, almost a decree: “He will stay. I have a location for you. It’s on the sea.” She unfurled a half-written missive from a table, a graceful hand spelling out latitude and longitude. “Somewhere near here, I should think. You will find a warrior named Avery. Let him and his charge know Queen Dawn is dead. Incidentally, how is that aggravated wound from training the other day?” “On the mend, my Queen.” Uskadesh straightened, “I go with your blessings.” Zhah countered, “And I expect your return in peace. The cadence of the minister’s talons filled the mason-crafted hallway, the sound of his measured footsteps like a drumskin beat with the side of an axe, echoing then fading as he went his way. “Now,” she turned to face the ward. “What’s next?” Ricardo set his hand into his cloak producing a sliver of the crystal, thrusting it outward as if to mount a charge. Then tapping the shimmering stone to his chin he mused, “That is a wonderful question indeed! Cake or pies?” Zhah’s eyes smiled.