Lord Caniere watched with dead eyes as the City of Abraham burned. Smothering pillars of smoke and ash reaching a hundred feet wide eased from within houses, from within the workshops and taverns and even the golden Holy Sept, grey clouds of his fractured empire reaching for the sky before being caught in the vast hand of the wind and drifting southeast. The streets were cracked and the enormous outer walls of Abraham had been toppled and breached. Abraham had fallen.
The Brass Sky Tower was the only structure left untouched. Caniere stood at the edge of the open summit, his hands resting lightly on the top of the waist-high battlements, between the north and east pillars. Above him, the famous dome of the Tower was dull, stained from the ash. Below him, his city crumbled from within. Deniere’s men still marched through the streets, hundreds of them, thousands upon thousands upon thousands. They formed a red and silver carpet, a web between the buildings.
Caniere could hear the drums and the shouting over the roar of the fires. As he watched, the Holy Sept collapsed inwards with an aching boom that echoed over the entire city, and he heard the cheer that went up among the Silvers. The ringing steel and clash of weapons had ended a long time ago; now Deniere’s Silvers overran Abraham with torches and shortswords and the sewers ran with blood.
Caniere’s chest ached beneath his breastplate, beneath his very skin. It hurt, more than anything he’d ever felt before. He could feel it, every second, growing stronger inside his ribcage. Anger and lust pulverised through his mind; anger for that wretched turncoat’s betrayal and the terrible lust for Caniere’s vengeance. But both shrivelled beneath the hurting. It was dominating and furious and screamed for release, but Caniere forced it down, just as he stayed the tumultuous storm of his red emotions.
He gradually became aware of the fighting in the Tower, the sounds of screeching metal. It was rising, up the thirty tiers to the summit. Soon they were right below him, and then the clamour ceased and the trapdoor set in the floor burst open behind Caniere. He didn’t turn around. He couldn’t tear his eyes from his dying city. And he didn’t want to have to look into the face of the man who had taken Abraham from him.
Several minutes passed and the fires continued burning.
The deep ache in his chest doubled, a sharp peak of pain that suddenly flared up like the crushing of a bone. His heart chanted wildly beneath his sternum, growing faster and faster.
Caniere’s voice was low, without a hint of the tempest beneath.
“Abraham is defeated. Why are you here?”
There was the sound of armour shifting, the small clumps as steel boots thudded on the stone floor of the summit. Deniere crossed the Sky Tower slowly, until he was only a few metres behind Caniere. The clumps stopped.
The betrayer’s voice was full of pain.
“Lord Caniere of the Crowforn, High Lord of Abraham, Son of the Stars and Lord Under the Sky,” he said. “Under my right of conquest, as the consequence and command of my victory, I, Lord Deniere strip you of all titles, possessions, riches, and leadership. I claim this capital city, this nation, and your empire, and before your sight I hereby disband it. Abraham is no more. Your empire is dissolved.”
Deniere’s voice quavered at the end, but he finished without stopping.
That hurt the most. His empire, grown from a mere castle by the sea to the Brass City and all the lands within the waters. Caniere stared into the falling sun, cast against the shimmering evening sky. The horizon was red with smoke and fire.
“Our empire,” he said quietly. The sun fell lower.
Deniere’s voice was harsh, raw emotion spilling from his mouth. “Yours. A realm can have only one chosen by the Starry Divine. You cannot share that.”
“Nevertheless, it was our empire,” said Caniere. “Ours. I could never have done it alone. Not without you.” He raised a skeletal hand, grey with decay and flaking between the fingers, and gestured to the ruins surrounding them. “How could I have created such an amazing thing without your support? You are the true Lord Under the Sky, destined to live one thousand lives and reign eterna-”
“No,” said Deniere sharply, painfully. Caniere heard him breathing heavily, deeply, and when the man spoke again his voice was a dam on the edge of release. “I cannot claim that. Caniere.”
The hurting. The fury inside him died, and left him empty, except for the hurting. It was all he had left. Caniere smiled without emotion and placed his hands back on the battlement. One smooth and alive, the other with the appearance of a corpse. He looked at them, side by side.
“If you cannot, then surely I cannot either. It seems my reign is at an end. If it is my empire as you say, then I fall with it.” Caniere paused. “No. I don’t fall with it . . . It falls with me. Abraham dies with me.”
“You are not dead yet,” said Deniere, but Caniere was nodding his head.
“Aye, I am, I am. I died the moment the seed of betrayal blossomed in your mind.”
Deniere was silent, and Caniere knew that his remark had been a knife to the betrayer’s gut. That realisation sent a ripple through him, the lust lapping at the satisfaction, but it was crushed beneath the weight of his regret. Not Deniere. How could he hurt Deniere?
But he knew what he had said was true.
“I’m sorry,” whispered his brother.
Caniere turned from the burning Abraham, turned his back upon the weeping sun and the bleeding sky. His arms fell to his side, swinging lifelessly, and his empty eyes looked upon Deniere’s face. The decay in his hand mirrored the grey of Deniere’s brow and cheek. The fleshbite had stricken both of them at birth, Deniere’s affliction far more horrifying than Caniere’s own.
“We could have had the world,” Caniere said, and then he broke, he broke and the hurting became too much. He felt his eyes burn, but there were no tears to fall. They’d died with the rest of him. “We . . . we could have had everything.”
Deniere’s single pupil blinked, and from him tears did come. He blinked them back.
“No man should have that much,” he said. He turned on his heel and strode back across the summit without looking back. His voice was hard. “Even two men.”
“I don’t care about that,” Caniere said to Deniere’s back. “Any of it. Abraham, the lands within the waters, nothing. I only wanted what we wanted. What we dreamed about. Ruling together.” He began to turn back, his eyes loosening, fading, until the last of the man that was Caniere vanished. The High Lord of Abraham turned back to the battlements, back to the flames, as the crash of the trapdoor washed over the summit and his brother left. His hands lifted back up and rested on the brass. One alive and the other a corpse.
“Together, Deniere. Forever.”
Before him, the Brass City blew away in a cloud of ash, and a horn blast swept out from the base of the Tower. The Silvers began to march out, a hunched figure at their head, and as they departed over the hills the sun descended with them. The last of the fires burned out, and the bleeding sky turned to black. In the centre of the ruin, the Tower stood alone.
The reign of the Lord Under the Sky was finished.
Abraham had fallen.