Lament for the Archon’s Seventeenth Child

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There is no room for sentiment in my position. I have always known this. Emotions – fear, wrath, boredom, affection – colour reality. One is blinded by them. My eyes must be ever open, attuned to lying smiles and the glint of knives in dark places. I have always known this. And yet, and yet…

An hour ago, two incubi in my employ deposited the body of my seventeenth trueborn child on the long table in my hall. She lies there now, while I sit at the head with an undrunk goblet of ichor dangling from my hand. Her perfect features are bathed in the hall’s soft violet light, and sometimes I fancy that I see some flicker of life beneath her skin. Even now, my eyes deceive me. One would think I had seen enough corpses to know when a thing is dead. And yet, and yet…

Seventeen trueborn children. Seventeen traitors. I despised most of them. Pathetic specimens, unworthy of inheriting my genetic material, let alone my position, my wealth, my armies. I will admit that I relished destroying them. A few – the seventh, the ninth, perhaps the twelfth – showed some meagre promise, and I indulged them to see what would come of it. Until the moment came, and they too turned on me and were crushed for their insolence. And yet, and yet…

I thought she was different. That is what bothers me, even now, as she lies dead upon my table. How was I, who has spent a hundred lifetimes guarding against sentiment, so utterly blinded? It is difficult when they are laid before you, mewling and flush with potential, not to feel some flicker of excitement. But even then, I looked into her eyes and thought, yes, you are the one. And yet, and yet…

I did not have much time for her then. Perhaps that was my first mistake. They are so easily moulded at that age. My feud with the Fallen Moon Kabal was all-consuming, but I listened eagerly to the reports from her minders—a fierce, keen intelligence. Tutors reduced to mincemeat – not literally, not at that stage. Although she was always bloodthirsty. I took her to the arena, and she was transfixed, squealing and clapping her small hands at every kill. And yet, and yet…

Even then, there were signs that she was predisposed to sentimentality. To weakness. An example: one name-day, I gifted her a slitherhound, and she trained it to eat glow-worms from her hand. I had the beast killed – a lesson about growing too attached. Later, the kabalite who did the deed for me was found slaughtered in his bed. She had crept in while he was out of his skull on some obtuse narcotic, and cut his throat with her little dagger. Adorable. I nearly burst with pride when they told me. Perhaps if I had asked her why she had done it, I would have spotted the fatal flaw lurking in my perfect progeny. And yet, and yet…

People think cruelty is innate, but in my many years I have discovered that, in fact, it has to be learned. And I tried to teach her. Friends tortured and put to death. Treasured objects broken. I took her to distant worlds and showed her sadism and depravity in all its myriad forms, and I thought I had succeeded in purging the softness from her. And yet, and yet…

I could sense that she was readying herself to make a play at me. There weren’t any signs, of course, she was too clever for that, but she was my daughter and she had my ambition. I could feel the knives glinting in the dark places. Her coup was carefully, patiently worked, and perhaps it would have succeeded. And yet, and yet…

There was a lover, secret even from me. She confided in him, and he came snivelling to me, hoping for some pathetic prize, some puny advancement. I gave him to the haemonculi, the filth. But I could not allow her scheming to go unpunished. And yet, and yet…

You might wonder why I didn’t just give it all to her, but that is the point. Nothing is ever truly valued unless it is taken from another. If the work of my lifetime is to survive my demise, my heir must be strong and clever and ruthless enough to take it from me. That was the test for her, and the sixteenth before her, and so on for all seventeen of them. But they have, all of them, failed. You see, it is not the betrayal that rankles – indeed, I expect it. Did I not usurp my own father? It is the failure that offends me. It is the failure that I must punish. And yet, and yet…

I gaze at the cold, still face of my seventeenth child. There is no room for sentiment in my position. And yet, and yet…

About the Author
Jack is from New Zealand and enjoys painting grey plastic and stumbling around in the grimdark.