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While his mate slept, secure in the emperor’s bed, J’mon Sa Ord went to their study and pored over city business. The brass dragon was close enough to hear if their Heart should awaken, but far enough that they did not have to keep perfectly quiet. J’mon activated one of their musical clockworks so that the study was not completely silent while they worked. 

Beyond the imperial chambers, life at the palace wound on. The harem and the imperial families would be taking dinner soon, the servants cleaning the halls of justice from a long day of trials and hearings--from which J’mon had been suspiciously absent. But the emperor was allowed to take a day off. Especially when their mate’s life was being threatened by ill fortune. 

J’mon fully expected the strike force to reach the Smoldercrown and take care of whatever thieves or necromancers were trying to use Marquet as a base for their ill deeds before nightfall. So it came as a surprise when a message appeared on their desk from the warmaster a few hours early. Expecting good news, the emperor opened the letter.

Your Majesty,

The seers have lost contact with the strike force. Their last communique was outside the mountain which holds the pyramid. A rogue had scouted ahead to deactivate any traps, and emerged after having found but one high level arcane trap. The entire party proceeded within, and now we can neither reach nor scry on them. 

I recommend the council reconvene at once to discuss options. 

- Asiel

J’mon tossed aside the note, annoyed. This matter should have been dealt with easily. Not hearing from the strike force could mean a number of things, not all of them bad. However, it troubled the emperor that the affair was still pending. 

With a sigh, they walked to their wardrobe and allowed their servants to wash and dress them in clothing more fitting of a semi-public appearance. Before J’mon left, they checked on their beloved once more, noting that he was sleeping soundly still. Not one for sentiment, the emperor turned to leave, only to receive a Sending from the royal magician. 

At least three of the party are dead and raised. One of the seers had a vision of their ambulating corpses before her sight was cut off. 

The brass dragon growled, clenching their fist in annoyance, and proceeded more swiftly to the council chamber. 

 

*

 

When Jarett returned from spying on Vox Machina, the atmosphere of the palace had changed. Potentates were rushing through the halls, and all of the servants looked panicked, either rushing before or behind members of the court, or pretending to be very busy. Jarett found his source in the kitchen and pulled them aside. “What has happened?” 

“No one’s sure,” the cook’s assistant said. “But the emperor is angry, and the council members look worried.” 

That didn’t bode well. There must be some news. Perhaps about the strike force? Or maybe it was something to do with the first consort? Vox Machina had left town, and they had barely been in the city long enough to get into trouble--an accomplishment for them. So it couldn’t be them, for once.

This source had no access to news of either the first consort or imperial council business, so Jarett paid them and moved up a tier in the palace, looking for one of the royal servants. He peered into the first consort’s quarters, hoping against hope to catch sight of his lover. One of the younger handmaids caught him peering in. 

“He’s not back,” Mariam said. “Can you find him? Everyone’s afraid to go into the emperor’s sanctuary, and none of their servants have come out where we can speak to them.” 

“If he is still there, I will go,” Jarett promised. As the emperor was currently with the council, it should be easy enough for Jarett to sneak back in, as he had this morning. 

Mariam let him stealth in through Gilt D’amour’s apartments, and Jarett crouched low and moved close to the wall through the emperor’s private quarters for as long as he could. There was no sign of His Highness in the bath--Jarett checked there first this time. But he followed the trail he remembered the royal couple taking this morning and finally reached the emperor’s bedroom. 

On the enormous bed, Jarett spied a familiar head with long braids lying on a gold silk pillow, his limbs arranged haphazardly beneath the sheets. Jarett tip-toed into the room and hid on the opposite side of the bed, which was not difficult to do, given the imperial bed’s height. Metallic dragons were so tall in their humanoid forms.

He reached across the mattress, beneath the sheet, taking the first consort’s hand. Zaahir Kadin’s fingers felt warm, at least. He seemed in good health, apart from being in a deep sleep. “My light, can you hear me?” Jarett asked softly, keeping an eye out for the emperor’s personal servants. 

But there was no response. Gilt D’amour did not so much as stir. 

“My lord, I fear there is something wrong that you sleep so soundly. I need only to know that you are alright.” He reached up to grip the first consort’s wrist and shake it slightly. 

And still, there was no response. 

“Perhaps the emperor has told you, you missed the council meeting this morning.” He scratched his fingernails gently up Zaahir Kadin’s arm and back down again. “They are in council again now. The palace is on edge. I fear something has happened.” This time, Jarett reached higher, pinching the first consort’s upper arm quite sharply. 

But Gilt D’amour’s face remained a serene mask of sleep, with not even the barest eye movement. 

“I can only think that you might be able to help, to do something. Perhaps they are the wisest people in Ank’Harel and do not need your input or guidance. But I have never found your insight lacking. Usually you are the only one to see things no one else does. I do not understand why they would not want your help in this.” 

Feeling more bold, Jarett slipped into the bed, beneath the sheets, moving close to the sleeping prince consort, knowing he could be put to death just for occupying the emperor’s bed without an invitation. But this felt dire. “My lord.” Jarett pressed close and rubbed Zaahir Kadin’s cheek with his moustache. “Please hear me. Perhaps I am worried for nothing. I just need to know you are abstaining from these meetings by your own choice. I have never known you to sleep so deeply.” 

He kissed Zaahir Kadin’s beard. “Can you hear me?” Jarett slid one arm around the sleeping form and pulled their bodies against one another. “Please, my lord.” Jarett turned the handsome umber visage to face him, and pressed a kiss to plum colored lips. 

This time, the first consort groaned, softly. And, feeling encouraged, Jarett tried it again, scratching his nails down Gilt D’amour’s throat as he did so. He felt the breath catch in his lover’s throat, and His Highness moaned this time, though Jarett couldn’t tell if it meant he was trying to awaken, or that he did not want to be awakened. Zaahir Kadin’s eyebrows moved, knitting together and releasing several times. 

“My light.” Jarett took the prince consort’s hand in his and brought it to his lips. “Can you hear me? You seem so far away. This is the first you’ve stirred all day.” 

“Restoration,” Zaahir Kadin mumbled, softly. “Get me... diamond...dust.” 

Jarett slipped out of bed and hurried back to the prince consort’s apartments, to his workshop, where Jarett knew he kept most of his spell components. He wasn’t sure how much diamond dust to bring, so Jarett brought the entire mason jar full, rushing back to the emperor’s bedroom as swiftly as he dared.  

When he returned, the first consort was lying on his back, his eyes still closed. “I have it,” Jarett whispered, carefully pressing the jar into his hand and opening the lid. 

With a seemingly great effort, Zaahir Kadin reached into the mason jar and brought out a fistful of diamond dust, scattering it across his own body as he spoke the incantation and drew a sigil in the air with his free hand. There was the familiar glittering purple spark of Gilt D’amour’s signature arcane energy as he cast the spell, and then suddenly his eyes opened. 

“That bastard.” 

“Was it the emperor?” Jarett blurted out. 

“It doesn’t matter.” He reached for Jarett, putting an arm around him. 

“I can carry you back, if you need assistance--” Jarett began, but Zaahir Kadin was shaking his head. “I need to pray. Just make sure you take the sheets with us. I’m not wearing anything under here, and I would hate to scandalize the priests.” 

“Ah.” Jarett made sure to wind the sheet around the prince consort’s nude body and grab two fistfuls of fabric. “I think it should come with us now,” he said, guessing that his lover meant to cast Teleport on both of them. 

In a moment, Jarett’s vision was eclipsed by the violet sparkles of Gilt D’amour’s magic, and when he could see again, they were lying on the floor of a temple, the marble beneath them a silvery-grey hue with platinum veins. Jarett helped His Highness sit up; he was still very weak and groggy from whatever poison the emperor had given him. 

Then Jarett got to his feet and slowly lifted Zaahir Kadin to his, holding him close in case he should feel dizzy after lying down for so long. While he got his bearings, Jarett carefully wrapped the sheet around his lover’s nude form to maintain his modesty with a proper lungi.

The priests were a stoic sort, coming forth to greet the two men who had suddenly appeared in their temple with a calm curiosity. They waited discreetly for Jarett and His Highness to be ready before addressing them.  “How may we help?” one of them asked, an aasimar youth who looked not much older than Hunin. 

“I’ve come to speak with Him,” the first consort said. “But if you have some water...and perhaps a robe I could borrow...”

“Of course.” One of the older priests, a gold-scaled dragonborn nodded, and two acolytes ran to fulfill Zaahir Kadin’s request. 

“Should I take you somewhere quiet and leave you to your prayers?” Jarett asked, feeling strange standing in the temple of a god he did not worship. 

“No,” Gilt D’amour told him, his grip around Jarett’s shoulders tightening. “Never leave me again. At least not until I find out what is going on.” 

“I do not wish to leave you,” Jarett said, nuzzling his cheek. 

Once the priests had brought them clothing and water, they escorted Jarett and the prince consort to an alcove where they left them to themselves, to give them privacy. Jarett helped Gilt D’amour slip the robe on over his bedsheet lungi. “Thank you,” Zaahir Kadin said, the look in his dark brown eyes warming Jarett to his core. 

“I thank god you are returned to yourself,” Jarett said. glancing around the temple, nervously. “Though not this one, begging no offense.”

The prince consort chuckled, and it was a rich, golden sound that made Jarett feel that everything was going to be alright.