“The prophet Hephastus was never wrong,” said Cybina, her eyes intractable. “He predicted the fall of the kingdom, he predicted the Great Deluge that split our lands in twain, and he predicted that the cruel yoke of the Outsiders would fall upon us.”

“And he also predicted that the true ruler of these lands, the Crimson Child, heir to the throne before the throne, would help us cast off that yoke,” said Shayya. “We’ve all heard it. Nationalist drivel, mostly. The last king, Hannibar IV the Red, had no children.”

“No,” said Cybina quietly. The sage turned away. “Nor was there any kingdom before that which his ancestors raised up.”

“I thought so,” Shayya sighed. “For all that’s happened it was just coincidence and tricks. Little Heren couldn’t possibly be the Crimson Child.”

“But,” Cybina added. “There was a kingdom before Hannibar’s ancestors ruled.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Shayya. “No one inhabited these lands before that.”

“No people. But there were others, other rulers, other thrones. Heren is in fact the Crimson Child…but she is not what people think she will be.”

“What…what do you mean?” said Shayya.

Cybina turned back to Shayya, and the latter gasped. Her eyes were suddenly orange, slit-pupiled, burning in the darkness. “The great serpents ruled before any man did,” she intoned. “And Heren is one of their number.”

Inspired by the song ‘Climson Child’ by Hiroki Kikuta, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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