THEIR FATHER'S last breath stirred the curls framing Fortune's face as she attended his bedside. His chest deflated beneath a misty sea of sheets, his vast form wilting into the downy mattress.
"May fate take you," whispered Fortune.
She reached over their father's shoulder, her hands cast to close one sightless eye and then the other. Their iridescent glow dulled and his face dissolved before she could shut the first wrinkled lid.
The rest of his body scattered a heartbeat later, his flesh breaking into hundreds of thousands of astral specks. Each soared into the darkened sky where they hovered like stars over the floating plane of his bedchamber.
Slipping back into her cushioned seat, Fortune watched their father's remains twinkle in the velvet dome.
"And now he's dead." With a beat of angelic wings, Weaver landed at the foot of the bed, her arms crossed over her white breastplate.
Whimsy ceased his pacing, the sapphire fringe on the crown of his head rigid. A distasteful curl stretched the dragon's muzzle as he eyed the dent left on the pillow. "An evident circumstance."
"He is not simply dead." He Who Does Not Sleep spoke from the darkest corner, his voice rasping. "He has reverted to a state of pure energy."
Weaver frowned at their shadowy brother and then gazed at the would-be-stars. Clasping her hands behind her winged back, she squared her shoulders to the sky. "We cannot allow our father's power to remain so unwieldy, to be so uncontrolled."
Keeping a knowing grin from her lips, Fortune cocked her head, her hair's sable curls lengthening into amber tendrils like those of her sister. "What do you propose to do?"
When she swiveled, the tattoos on Weaver's cheeks brightened with an inner fire. "I will do what I do best."
Emerging from the shade, He Who Does Not Sleep slinked along the length of the plane. "Stagnation is not the answer."
Weaver gripped her sword's flame-wrought hilt, her armor blazing. "Order is not stagnant."
Undaunted by Weaver's ire, Whimsy perused the view, the slits of his serpentine eyes narrow. "We must think broader than a mere next step. We must think of how to best manage this power in the centuries to come."
"And you would do what, brother?" Weaver turned to him, her flaxen brows arched. "Take it under your wing?"
Whimsy's incisors gleamed. "Mine are more stable than yours."
A step set Weaver before his scaled chest, her sword bared and lustrous. "I can best contain what our father has cast heedlessly into the ether."
"Contain perhaps." He Who Does Not Sleep paused at the headboard. "But you would destroy his remnants in the process."
Weaver lowered her blade. "What do you mean?"
"You would stifle all that our father has been."
"I would bring order to this." Weaver motioned at the sky where the specks winked in a stellar mass.
Whimsy sneered. "And you would become the most powerful of us all."
"Perhaps," said Weaver. "Order requires strength. Faith. And who knows them better than I?"
Taking to the air, Weaver brushed her fingers across the sky and cupped her hand to capture what had been freed. Each speck dashed away from her touch, however, leaving her a white island in an ocean of black. Scowling at their retreat, Weaver fluttered back to the ground.
Fortune snickered. "It seems our father doesn't approve of your offer."
"He knew nothing could exist without chaos," said Whimsy.
"No brother," said He Who Does Not Sleep, "change is the true power in the universe."
Fortune nestled deeper into her chair. "All power is meaningless in the face of fate."
Ignoring her, He Who Does Not Sleep poked a sallow finger into the astral cluster, the slack of his sleeve bunching to expose the blotches, blisters, and scars mottling his withered arm. The would-be-stars, however, darted from him as they had from Weaver.
When He Who Does Not Sleep drew his hand away, their father's remnants gathered themselves with a spiral swirl and remained safely out of reach.
Staring at the reformed specks, Whimsy snorted, white puffs scented of desert sands coiling from his nostrils. "Perhaps none of us can claim what was his."
"Or perhaps it's a matter of proving ourselves worthy." As the attentions of her siblings shifted to her, Fortune smoothed her skirts over her legs, her limbs at one moment long and lean, at another stout and muscular.
Weaver tested her sword's weight. "To whom must we prove ourselves?"
Fortune tipped her face to the sky. "Him, of course."
"Him..." The gaze of He Who Does Not Sleep returned to the would-be-stars.
"An imaginative suggestion." Whimsy flicked his tail and drummed a talon against his chin. "Perhaps this was his intent in calling us here to witness his demise."
Weaver ground her thumb across the carved flames on her sword's pommel. "He wanted us to battle one another?"
"He wanted us to determine amongst ourselves how his power should be dispensed." Whimsy resumed his pace alongside the bed, his claws clacking on the floor's onyx stone.
"Dispensed?" asked Weaver.
Fortune tucked her legs beneath her, her gown's silk rustling against the cushion's satin. "He's suggesting we share, sister."
"Share?" Weaver scoffed. "Spreading this power between us simply increases the disorder of its release. It must be contained by one mind, by one body."
"At the moment," said Fortune with a dismayed pout, "it seems our father does not wish to be contained by any of us."
"We must do something." Weaver glared at the sky. "We cannot let this remain loose."
Whimsy stopped at Weaver's side, his attention similarly focused on the specks. "Then we must determine a way to show our father who amongst us has the right to his remains."
He Who Does Not Sleep grinned, ruby teeth glimmering. "Victory to the strong."
"To those of you with strength of arms perhaps." Fortune folded her hands in her lap. "Battling seems an unfair trial from where I sit."
Whimsy met her gaze. "If we are to prove ourselves, we must do so as equals. Each of us has our strengths," he eyed Weaver, "and our weaknesses. Single combat would prove an imbalanced test."
"With that I agree," said He Who Does Not Sleep.
"Agree?" Weaver pivoted on the room. "Under her own admission Fortune is the weakest amongst us. The choice then is between you and I, brothers."
"You'll dismiss me so quickly?" Fortune held up a single finger. "I could beat all of your armies with just one ship, sister."
"I would like to see you try."
Without shifting from Weaver's eager face, Fortune draped her hands on her chair's armrests. "Perhaps you shall, sister, perhaps you shall."
Whimsy halted Weaver's retort with raised claw. "You offer a noble suggestion."
In a twist of features, innocence settled on Fortune's face. "Noble?"
"Yes," said Whimsy, "we choose ones who will fight in our stead."
The fire Weaver's eyes blistered. "We select Champions and their victories will be our own."
"And we prove ourselves by our choices," said Whimsy, "rather than by muscle and grit."
The would-be-stars gleamed, their light shining on plate and scales, scars and silken curls.
Fortune let loose a laugh of dancing octaves. "It seems our father approves."
"Then our course is decided." Whimsy settled on each of them in turn. "Three Champions on the Astral Plane for the power of our father?"
Weaver sheathed her sword. "So be it."
He Who Does Not Sleep nodded, his face hidden now beneath his cowl.
Fortune waved an off-hand. "As you like."
"I await the fray. Brothers," Weaver wheeled on Fortune. "Sister." She stormed from the floating plane, blonde mane, bleached wings, and stomping boots vanishing in a sheen of emptiness.
After a graceful sweep of tail and farewell bow of fringed head, Whimsy followed.
He Who Does Not Sleep simply melted into the dark, his shadowed form disappearing with a rub of calloused hands.
Once alone, Fortune allowed herself to smile. She basked in the glow of their father's being, each speck twinkling against a backdrop of nothingness.
"Keep a watchful eye, father. You're about to see the real games begin."
TITANS TACTICS: THE GAMES BEGIN. Copyright © 2013 by Kathleen A. Magner and Imbalanced Games, LLC.