It is the sounds which first draw you up out of the oblivion of slumber. The metallic sounds of coins sliding against each other like the scales of some gigantic snake writhing about just outside of your field of vision. Slowly, softly, the rasping subtly shifts to the pervasive murmurs of courtly whispers.
Sound preceded sight, and with the continuity only a dream can provide, you find yourself in the midst of one of Baburin’s noble galas. It looks just like you imagined, from the tales your mother used to regale you with as a child. Beys mingle, viziers exchange subtle glances, and kadis craft scathing insults about each other’s fashions sense. At least, you assume, so as all of the guests spout gibberish to each other. But their actions, those cast them into the roles your mind imagined, the roles your mother cast them in when she told you about these events.
The smells come next. Roast meats, an abundance of powder, the sweat of the crowd, the cool of the night. And beneath it all, a familiar sweet smell which reminds you of home. Or at least a home. The smell rests beneath the others, but it calls to your conscious mind. Briefly, tethered to the smell, you can feel a familiar morning chill mixed with a cozy warmth about your frame. And you can hear the steady drum of rain on a roof.
But then the crowd in your dreams parts. Standing at the end of the newly formed human corridor is your aunt. The lights of the gala fade, until you can hardly see past the living wall of guests who line the path to your aunt. They stare and cover their lips to whisper gibberish about you. Your aunt takes no notice, her terrible beauty and will focused on the man at her side. That portly man wears a hooded sable robe trimmed in gold. Ignoring your aunt, as if hearing something from the direction where you stand, the man slowly turns. As he looks down the opening in the crowd at you, you can see the shining gold mask upon his face. With an abrupt raised hand, he silences your aunt, who looks in your direction as well. No flash of recognition show upon her face, but her hand goes to the hilt of a fine looking dagger at her belt.
The robed man slowly begins to walk towards you, arms held low and open. The light playing upon his golden mask lends a slight warmth to the static grin carved there. Even though he is, what seems like, a hundred feet away, you can hear his voice as if he were within arm’s reach.
“Hello again, Neridasunni. I told you we would meet again.”
Delilah looked down the double row of people, a sinking feeling in the bottom of her stomach as she noticed her aunt. Her first instinct was to melt into the crowd, but with everyone staring she was pretty sure that wouldn't work. Besides, the Golden faced man was here, and when he had been alive he'd seemed to stare through walls. Surely finding her in a crowd of people would be child's play. Delilah let out a slow breath. If she couldn't run, she must face him. Again. "And here I am. Why are we here, Golden One?"
“Why, because you brought us here,” his voice had a metallic ring to it, sharp consonants tinging loudest. His eyes strayed back towards Delilah’s aunt, his head cocking to the side as if recognizing something strange.
“Although I believe that it is your connections to this place, and the people here, which forged a less….. resistant path. I am impressed. Normally it takes months to unlock the ability to come visit me in dreams, and months still before….” He turned back to look at Delilah. “Do you know, Majula was frighten of me for almost three months? She kept running from me, seeking to hide. But you, you dear child, approach me without fear right at the start. The metal of your family runs purest in your mother’s line, it seems.”
His large belly shook as the robed figure chuckled.
“But please, I am being rude. This is after all, your dream. Golden though I am in visage, I am should not be referred to as ‘Golden One’. He is the ally of my master, the one who has blessed me with the golden touch. Much as Majula serves me, and I serve him.”
The smells, which before were but an undertone, suddenly rose further to the surface of Delilah’s awareness. With it came a soft ‘clack-clack-clang’, which too rose in volume, and began to drown out the drone of the crowds.
“Tell me Neraidasunni, what do you covet most in this life?”
"Answers." Delilah did not have to think about her reply as it sprang readily from her lips. "You've told me what not to call you--what may I call you?" Delilah could feel the gentle weight of the saber at her hip. Though she had trained with it extensively for her performances, the first time she'd used one in an actual fight had been the last time she met this man. The weapon with her was beautiful, but had not been made for battle. Nor had she, though she had to resist the sudden impulse to rest her hand on the hilt. Instead she narrowed her eyes, looking from the man to her aunt then back at him. "And what does Majula--and my line--have to do with you?"
His head tipped forward, his chest expanded with a deep breath that hissed against the small hole set in the mouth of the mask.
“A simple desire, but there are no easy answers to it. For now, you may call me the Emperor of Gold and Silk. A grandiose title, I will grant you. But it is one which is on par with my ambitions for this land and its peoples.”
The clacking grew louder, rumbling up from the floor beneath Delilah’s feet. The lines of people on either side of her struggled to maintain their balance. The floor began to crack and heave, uprooting huge blocks of marble and toppling the spectators to the floor. They slid back screaming silently away from Delilah and the man in the golden mask, who stood in an island of stillness.
“As for your other question, Majula has bound her star to mine. For reasons, I am sure she would not want me sharing with you just yet.” The man laughed, a high-pitched titter, seemingly directed at the chaos around them.
“I will add this, Neraidasunni. Your line is tied to my fortunes by the actions of your aunt. Actions I would be willing to aid a worthy successor in reversing.”
Delilah glanced uneasily at the screaming people as the room rocked around them. The laughter made her blood freeze. "My aunt's successor? Or yours?" She looked at him steadily, hiding the cold knot of dread that settled in the pit of her stomach. "and how can her actions be reversed?"
The rubble fell away slowly, the tumbling blocks taking the courtiers with it. It left only a circle of black surrounding the isle of marble upon which Delilah and the Emperor of Gold and Silk stood. The man in the golden mask stiffened for a brief instance, before replying. “Majula’s. Never mine. Ambition is a wonderful thing, Neraidasunni. It drives us to greater heights. But if you have too much, or set it against the wrong will, ambition is a stairway to a cliff.”
The man took a step away from Delilah, his slippered foot stepping out into the oblivion which now encircled Delilah.
“As for how…” The Emperor’s voice had grown distant, even though he stood with one foot on the marble and one in the darkness. “all will be revealed in time my dear. But, if you wish, the start of your path lies close at hand. A journey into the woods is all it would take.”
The darkness grew to envelop Delilah, and for a moment the oblivion claimed her consciousness. But then sound burst back into her perceptions, the sounds of Merabel’s printing press mixed with the drumming of Phexcaer’s latest storm upon her window. The smells of freshly baked pastries wafted through her room. But there, lying next to her right hand on the blankets, was the blade. No longer golden, at least by the weak morning light which struggled to pierce the rain clouds and the grime coating the window. No, now the blade had a silvered sheen to it, etched with the rune for ‘8’.