Neal stood on the balcony outside the Hall of Elders surveying his kingdom.  He held out his arms, reflecting that all he could see was his, from horizon to horizon and beyond.  In his mind it was a mighty empire, he was unable to see the abject poverty and vast suffering of his people.  He laughed, turning to Simon Lamb who stood in the shadows of the Hall behind him.

            “Look at what we have done!”  Neal laughed, grinning at his advisor.  “Look what we have made!  They said the world was ending, and we built a civilization!”

            Simon laughed along with Neal, nodding.  Look what we did.  Look at the world we have made.  He looked out at the muddy streets of their city, filled with slaves and serfs, butchering soldiers and festering evil.  He thought it was as wonderful as the world Neal saw in his mind.  For Simon Drake Lamb, the world was as it should be.

            “And so peaceful!”  Neal smiled, looking out over his kingdom once again.  “No one would ever dream of rebelling again, like my foolish cousin.  What better sign of our good works, than that our people live in peace and harmony?”

            “They love their king.”  Simon agreed.  Fear him, really, but what does it matter?  You believe you rule the globe, and I rule you, Simon thought.  Together we have made this world a charnel house.

            One of the world’s best butchers, a stalking shadow, strolled the streets of the city unimpeded.  Day or night, the peasants scattered if they saw him coming.  Or heard his footfalls.  They whispered about the black man, the reaper that walked.  Children heard bedtime stories that gave them nightmares and ran screaming if they saw his shadow.  If Neal Osborne was the king and Simon Drake Lamb the power behind the throne, than Donovan Reza was the sword that power wielded. 

            What the frightened citizenry failed to realize was that if they saw Reza coming then they were safe.  He hunted his prey from the darkness, came out of shadows like winds blowing up out of a still sky, something no one saw coming until it was upon them.  He walked the streets openly because he knew that it frightened them.  And he enjoyed their fear.  Relished it.

            It was late winter, but here on the west coast that did not mean as much as it did in other places.  It rained frequently, but rarely snowed.  It mattered not at all to Reza:  he could have walked through the Arctic now in his usual black pants and shirt and he would not have felt a chill.  His blood burned hot now, and fierce strength filled his sinews.  His hour was approaching again.  He could feel it.

            “Hail, good sir!”  Donovan called to an old man trying to scuttle off the street.  His voice was filled with good humour on the surface, but underneath there was something else entirely.  Something that made the aged peasant stop cold, pinpricks of frosty terror crawling up his back.

            “H-h-how m-m-might I be of service, sir?”  The cowering man asked.

            “Do you know what year it is?”  Reza asked, smiling.

            “I believe…” the old man paused, trying to remember, “In the old ways, it would be 2022.  No one much keeps a calendar anymore, but I’d say that would be right.”

            A young woman and her grandmother were trying to creep away down the same street, hoping to sneak past without being noticed while Reza held this conversation.  But when the old man said the year, the grandmother stopped short.  She stared at the back of the dark man, the night-stalker, and muttered something.

            “What was that?”  Donovan asked, whirling to stare right at the old woman.  Her granddaughter was trying to pull her away, but the crone kept repeating herself.

            “What is she saying?”  The old man asked, his curiosity getting the better of him. 

            “She only speaks Mandarin now,” the young woman explained.  “She understands things, but forgets how to speak in English.  She was never much good at it.  She says…”

            “She says it’s the year of the Tiger.”  Reza smiled.  “I like that.”

            “You understand her?”  The grizzled elder asked, genuinely surprised.

            “The curse of Babel does not apply to me,” Reza said, staring at the old man with blazing eyes.  The aged figure did not understand.  He only looked at the dark man in stupefaction.  He was once again genuinely surprised when he blinked, and found that Donovan was no longer standing there.  He understood why when the grandmother shrieked and the young woman screamed, pointing behind him.

            The old man turned as quickly as he could and felt the iron grip of a hand around his throat.  Single-handedly, Reza lifted him into the air.  He was still grinning, the smile of a skull or a spectre.  The old man could not believe how fast this demon moved.

            “I am the Tiger.  My time has come.”  Donovan smiled, the cruel grin of a predator, and then threw the old man across the street into a building, where he heard the snap of breaking bones.  The women continued shrieking as he stepped towards them.

            Jason heard the screams from his rooms in the Citadel.  He didn’t even bother to look out the window.  When he heard the gallop of a horse arriving below he hardly even pricked up his ears.  It was not until he heard the running footsteps and hands banging on doorways that he got curious.  He opened his door and saw a messenger, eyes glazed with panic, going from door to door in the hallway.

            The frenzied courier caught sight of Jay and ran forward eagerly, crying out.  He gripped the front of Jason’s rich robes and almost wept with relief.

            “Good lord, help me please!”

            “What is it?”  Jason asked, his heart beating too quickly in his chest for comfort.  The man’s obvious fear was almost contagious.

            “I bring a message from our outposts in the desert…  But I don’t dare tell them myself!  No, no, it’s bad luck to be the bearer of bad news.  I dare not!  But they’ll listen to you!”  The man seemed almost mad with terror, speaking hurriedly and glancing swiftly from side to side.

            “What news?”  Jason asked.

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