In the blink of an eye, Nashachiron, god of avarice, disappeared. He stood alone on the peak of a mountain path. The sun was setting, its rays casting long shadows behind rocks and the small scrub that grew between the cracks of the pavement and boulders. But those shadows hardly simulated the depths of darkness that Samael was used to. He could hardly raise his eyes to the smoldering sun with all its magnificent and brilliant hues of gold and scarlet. Its glare was blinding and it took all his resolve to take a step forward, closer to that ball of light. Everything glowed and the elements were in a haze, casting an albino vignette in his vision. How bright this mortal realm was!
The effervescent marble that the god had placed in his trust was placed safely inside an inner pocket that Samael had found in his dress, which was likened to a grey habit-type of wear, no holes or frayed ends, bottomless pockets and uneven collars. It was immaculate -- a single piece of cloth smooth as fine silk. His black velvet clothing of Paradís was ragged scrap in comparison to this piece of clothing. A light grey sash tied around his waist, and something of leather and hard material encased his feet.
His skin was white, whiter than anything he had ever seen on any creature. His fingers were shorter; his nails clear and clean, trimmed close. From the senses of his hands and fingertips, hair covered half of his head, curly dark brown hair. Thin traces of hair also covered his arms and legs, his entire body. A strange creature, this human was. He hoped to find a pool of water, even a small brown puddle, in which he could catch a glimpse of his facial features. But he found none, and he continued walking down the crooked mountain path. The glaring sun, which his eyes were not yet accustomed to, prevented him from accurately scrutinizing his surroundings, and when the shadow of the mountain in front of him cast him into tolerable dimness and relief, he stopped, turning his body around and gathering in the mountainside.
Short trees were scattered miscellaneously, with no pattern or reason; the terrain was rocky and devoid of greenery. The sky above was a deepening azure, which, as it fell towards the horizon, turned into a violet and cerise hue, glowing white around the burning orb now positively obscured. And there, as his eyes traced the mountainous ridge before him, he spotted a strange outcropping from the rocks. It was mostly square, a few misshapen blocks attached to it. He stared at it and began to realize that it was a dwelling place of some kind, a shelter or gathering place, perhaps. No, too small to be a gathering place.
And then he recalled his creature the god endowed as Vespa.
He looked to his left and to his right, but saw nothing. The blades of stray weeds and flowers fluttered in the wind, but that was all. Though the effulgence pained him, he strained his eyes upwards, then across the horizons and back down into the valley. Not another soul appeared to him.
He resumed his pace and his focus. Where there was one dwelling place, there was sure to be another. Nashachiron, though weak to amusement, would not waste his time toying with a temporarily hallowed helot and cast him a day's walk from where he was to begin his work.
It was physically painful when the sun's rays shone in his face again. His eyes were squeezed shut as he placed one foot blindly in front of the other, daring a misstep, but he could not bear to even open his eyes in the slightest. He felt as if these human eyes would implode from the plethora of brightness, but mercifully, the following distant mountain ridge was higher than the last just crested, and it cast a shadow on the path soon after.
Samael crouched, pushing in his eye sockets with his fingers, rubbing them and then opening them, blinking. It was as if the light were setting his visual orbs on fire, piercing right through them in a spiteful wish to blind whoever dared to cast their eyes upon it.
Now that they adjusted to the shadow, he looked around. This valley was much larger and deeper than the last, and now similar square buildings dotted the rocky terrain, strategically placed nearby larger trees. The path descended quickly, even turning into tall steps at certain points, and Samael wondered if there were some three or four-legged creature that would help a human traverse this pebbly and narrow trail. What kind of creatures did the mortal realm have? Samael searched hungrily, but he could spot no humans in sight.
By the time he approached the crest of the next ridge, the sky had turned even darker, the rainbow that bordered the horizon had long gone, and the air was becoming cooler. The breeze was stronger now, and Samael was able to stand atop the ridge and look down into the new valley below him.
The houses were larger and more numerous, now in clustered geometric arrangements. A larger building that could suffice for a gathering place lay a ways from the main path to what felt like the north. The path widened, though it still converted into steps to help the traveler ascend and descend. Now the world was cast in a dim bluish hue, no longer white and glaring. Lights glowed in some windows while not in others, and Samael instinctively crouched when he suddenly noticed a walking figure among some houses below. It was a human, and it was much too far to have noticed him standing tall on the ridge, but Samael crept behind an outcropping boulder anyway. The human carried some light device -- it was no flame -- in front of himself, lighting the path in front. It carried something else in its hands, what, Samael could not tell, and the figure was noticeably more corpulent and hairier than the appearance of Samael.
A light that is not a flame? Samael tried to get a good glimpse at it, but he was too far to see clearly the device that cast this light. He stood up and began to descend quickly when the man had returned to his shelter. The darkness was welcome, it made his travel easier, and he felt lighter and invigorated now. The coolness was not new to him. Though Paradís was hot and arid on most days, there were certain locales, certain beings, certain creatures that emitted an icy breath, and it was not uncomfortable. Samael liked change. And in this darkness, Samael spied another human, a man, mirroring his descending footsteps on the opposite ridge.
He intended to cross paths with that man. His spying and lurking was becoming a bore. Conversing with a human ought to be most fascinating.
He slipped a few times, cursing the clumsy shoes on his feet and he descended the winding path swiftly and reached the sloping path in the valley before the other man did. The other man carried no light with him and walked slowly and fixedly, his steps suggesting that he was a man with some ailment. His gait was stiff and his body tense with multiple attempts to balance himself.
Samael shuffled quickly up and down the path until the man stood a few paces before him.
The man looked up and spoke first.
"Greetings, lad, why do you not have a lamp?" His voice was scratchy and hoarse.
Samael realized that the man's curious walk was due to old age. He couldn't help but imagine what god lay claim to his soul, but he quickly tossed the thought aside. He stopped and said nothing, waiting for the man to come closer to him. Through the darkness, he could see the man's hair was white, probably as white as the flames of that cursed sun, but his patch of hair above his eyes were dark, almost black, straight and expressionless. He wore something not unlike what Samael wore, except his robe contained trimmings of gold and burgundy.
"Lad, a lamp," the older man came closer, then stopped a couple paces in front of him.
Samael could see him squinting at him curiously. He felt a strange radiance emanating from him. Did all humans have this? Could he recognize it? This aura was explicable, but only if he studied it.
"I do not recognize your face, young man. Come, are you searching for the Brotherhood?"
"Are you going to the Brotherhood?" Samael finally said. His voice was smooth, masculine. It surprised him.
"I can lead you there, though it will have to wait until tomorrow. The hour is late."
The man looked at him from grey eyes, as if trying to find something in Samael's face, then with a slight trace of resignation, turned his gaze away and began walking.
Samael turned to walk beside him.
"What is your name?" The man questioned, keeping his eyes to the path.
"And where are you from?"
The marble in his pocket which lay near his upper left chest area began to radiate heat, a very hot heat, and he put a hand to it in surprise. Without a second thought, he opened his mouth. "Iermlor," he said.
"Ah, the Iermlor monastery is an excellent place, one I've read much about but have not yet had the pleasure yet of seeing it with my own eyes. You have traveled long and far, Samael," the man turned to him.
Samael smiled slightly and said nothing. The marble had turned cold in an instant. Nashachiron, my god, my guide, my voice. Merely a light touch and wisdom is free for the taking.
"The monastery of Aravot is a few miles closer to the city, beyond two more ranges behind me, and I would not have you travel so far in the darkness, especially if you have no light. Have you nothing with you?"
"I have brought nothing," and it suddenly occurred to him that Vespa had yet to appear to him.
"Something forgotten?" The old man tilted his head, his eyes seemingly trying to read his thoughts.
Samael ignored him and frowned, turning away. He kept his eyes to the road. Humans could certainly not read minds; he was not concerned of that. But this old man certainly possessed something that was not quite right, and it made him curious. "Do you live here? Who are you?"
The man looked at him a moment more, then replied, "My name is Demuzi, and I take residence in Aravot."
The marble seemed to singe his frock and Samael suppressed a wince. "Demuzi?" He grit his teeth as the burn faded as quickly as it had come. "Sibyl of our emperor?"
Samael stopped a step ahead of him. He turned his head slightly and looked back at the old man.
"I am sibyl no longer," Demuzi's forehead creased deep, his grey eyes glittering brightly underneath the dark eyebrows. "The sibyl exists no longer, and may you never utter such a word."
"I meant no harm," Samael said as Demuzi began walking again.
"Speak of it no more," Demuzi raised his hand, his pace seemed quicker. The silence between them grew, and Samael realized that he was following the old man to the larger shelter that backed up to a steep section of the mountainside. But where they were heading was hardly a concern to him. Vespa had yet to appear to him, and this man that he walked beside, there was something strange about him. Now he wasn't sure if all humans exuded this spiritual energy, but this Demuzi figure who refused to be associated with the term "sibyl" was emitting something familiar, something he'd felt before, and then it suddenly clicked. It was a sensation felt when he had entered (the second tier of the Fortress). The presences he had felt there, specifically from the house nearest when he had first entered that strange plane. Which god it was, he was not sure, but perhaps a little convincing could clarify this strange presence. From the corner of his eyes, he watched Demuzi plod forward. He knew the old man knew he was observing him, and he suddenly spoke.
"You will be welcomed at the Ponacce Monastery tonight; I am stopping by there now to conduct some business."
"Yes," Samael replied. "What kind of business will you be conducting tonight?"
Demuzi frowned and kept his eyes on the dark path. "It is of no concern to you, Samael."
"It would be devious if you were not able to share it with me," he smiled slyly. He was sure that this man Demuzi was someone of importance. "Has the emperor requested your business here?"
Demuzi's brows furrowed and he turned quickly to Samael. "Your conversation is appalling, Samael. Have you no shame in imposing yourself upon an old man?"
The small stone felt like it were singing a hole in his pocket. "Shame is something I am not familiar with, Demuzi. Are you not responsible for the indifference of the faith here? You cannot expect a thing that you yourself have scoffed at; expected behavior has been condemned by your own tongue."
Demuzi stopped short and gaped at the man, the silent words that betrayed the anger within.
Samael returned his gaze, smug and blithe. He shrugged slowly, disdainfully. "Your reputation is well known to me, despite your late disappearance from the eyes of the public. You are still sibyl of the emperor, and if you could satisfy the curiosity of young mind, it interests me to know which of the gods takes such a peculiar interest in you."
The old man's eyes quivered in rage, they opened wide, the whites of his eyes reflecting the pallid blue light from the night sky above, then he shut them tightly, creating long wrinkles from the corners of his eyes to the thinning hairline on his temples.
Amused, Samael stood and watched the waves of emotions that flooded through the old man, surprised at how easy it was to interpret human reactions. Of course, he'd watched them drag themselves through the street of Paradís every day, but those were the weak and injured, careless and dismal, already dead. Here in front of him was a living and breathing mortal, his heart beating wildly, his blood pumping through him, vibrant with energy and sensation. It was beautiful. Their vivacity was remarkable and he watched in wonder and delight.
Then Demuzi's body relaxed. His shoulders fell limply, relaxing into the arthritic frame and tiredness that enveloped his posture. He opened his grey eyes and looked at Samael. "Allothain acknowledges you. Come."
Demuzi began walking again, and Samael followed him with his eyes, watching the old man walk away. The distance between them grew. Allothain. God of pride. Allothain spoke with Demuzi. In mere seconds, they had conversed. Allothain had seen him. Could Allothain sense Nashachiron? What had Allothain told Demuzi? Was Demuzi aware of Samael the Pale? Was Allothain? The god most certainly must, but could the human? He caught up to him quickly, staring at him. Demuzi hardly acknowledged his presence, and the expression on his face, blank and hidden.
"Allothain, the Shaolim?" Samael pressed, his mind itching to know. Repressing the emotions in the human body was not an easy task, he realized, but he was not ready to curse its weaknesses just yet.
"Yes. I do not know what insights you possess, young monk, but I do not recommend the pursuit of that which is evil. May Horafah forgive your transgressions."
For a moment, he feared the sharp pangs that inflicted him every time the unspeakable was named, but surprisingly, and later shrugged off, he realized that the name had no effect whatsoever upon his mortal body. "Horafah," he said aloud, suppressing a laugh when even he said the name itself, it had no effect. How utterly neutral humans were. The perfect puppets.
"Yes," Demuzi barked. "God of all and may you never falter in your faith, lest your punishment be worse than that of a man who has never heard his name. Now hush, we approach the monastery and I wish for no particular attention."
"Will I be accompanying you with your business?" Samael grinned. How much did Allothain know?
"Most certainly not."
Not much, yet. But he had to know that Nashachiron himself stood in front of Demuzi, he was sure of it. He knew he was only a puppet of Nashachiron, but it wouldn't stop him from taking full advantage of the situation. They ascended a short flight of wide steps to the double-doors of the monastery. A holy place of Horafah. Samael would have to save the reveries of scorn for a future private moment. Inside the low-ceilinged vestibule, several monks were gathered together speaking quietly, but stopped and turned when the two entered. Demuzi wasted no time.
"Brother Samael, from Iermlor, will be staying for the night. He is on his way to the Mono of Aravot, but he is tired and parched from his journey. Please, tend to him."
"And you, Father Demuzi?" One of them exclaimed.
"I am familiar with the way, and am only visiting to fulfill administrative business."
They bowed to him and began towards Samael.
Samael kept his eyes upon Demuzi, and while answering their courteous inquiries of the state of Iermlor, he saw the old man pass through the door at the end of the vestibule. After answering a few more questions, he interrupted them and exclaimed that he had forgotten to ask something of Demuzi and began for that door.
"Would one of us accompany you?" The talkative one called out.
Samael shook his head, not wanting to grace these insincere idiots with a voiced reply. He casually opened the door and slipped through it, quietly closing it and looking at his surroundings. He had entered into something of a cloister, a covered rectangular walkway surrounding the strange and out-of-place grassy ground. Through the narrow columns, he spotted two tall narrow doors at the opposite end of the cloister, and seeing no other doors in the corridors, he quickly started for the opposite side, keeping to the darkness. A bright white disc was beginning to rise in the sky, and though it did not alter the spectrum around it, its glowing nevertheless disturbed his vision and he kept his eyes averted. It did not matter which door he took, as both led into the same long hallway, and both ends wrapped around and disappeared. Feeling an urge to go to the right, he did so and found himself at the landing of a stairwell. A soft light, natural light from the disc in the sky, came from above. He laid his hand upon the cool stone walls and began ascending the steps, keeping his eyes up to prevent his being seen. A few more steps and the tunnel-like stairwell opened to another oblong room which seemed wider than a hallway, but narrow not to serve any particular purpose. The light was coming from his right, and as he continued to ascend, he saw that the right side of the room was open to the night air, divided by thick stone columns that cast elongated shadows across the room. And there, he could distinguish a hushed voice coming from the end of the room far from the steps. He crept up to the top, then keeping his head low, stopped two steps from the landing and tilted his head. Human hearing is not much to boast of, he grumbled to himself.
The words were hushed, but they stopped, and a second man replied, whose voice no doubt belonged to Demuzi.
"That is hardly necessary, is this a suggestion of humor? I do not find this amusing, and neither would the emperor," he said, his voice not as hushed as the first man, and tinged with impatience and displeasure.
The other man replied, but Samael couldn't distinguish the words from his mouth. After a short moment of thought, he raised his head just an inch closer to the landing. His head was most certainly visible if one were searching for it, but there was no interruption in the conversation, and Samael pushed himself further.
"...instigate the Bergwaan, he is connected with Falel'shefi."
"For what purposes?"
"Simpleton!" The man obviously did not know who Demuzi was, or he held it all in such contempt that he cared not who he insulted. "To keep the emperor's eyes to the west! All the Gravuans know and fear a push to the south, it's inevitable. Varsala's lust for blood is known everywhere, but I suppose you who walk with his seal have never even stepped foot outside the Celestial Mountains."
"I have tread in places you could never comprehend, filthy spy that you are. I did not come here to listen to your contempt."
Samael stood up and stepped onto the landing. Both men turned as they saw his appearance, hushed and angered at the interruption.
"Eansevat will not be pleased to know of this," the spy said under his breath. He was a short man of slim build, chestnut hair sloppily brushed over his forehead with hands that twitched and fidgeted constantly underneath his sleeves. Demuzi only stared at Samael as he approached, his gaze void of approval or disapproval.
"Who are you!" The spy said when Samael was but a few steps from them.
"A companion of this man, a guardian, you could say."
"Guardian?" The man spat. He turned to Demuzi. "Does Bhenno know of this? Another guardian? Are your Sentinels deteriorating so much that you need a second guardian to accompany you on your devious little outings?"
"The Sentinel's business is none of yours," Demuzi replied dryly, avoiding the eyes of both men.
Samael stepped into their circle, one of the thick columns that divided the night from the darkness within to his back. His habit fluttered around his bare ankles from the cool night breeze that came in, and he tilted his head, gazing at the spy who observed him up and down.
"A nice disguise you have there, guard," he sneered.
"Sometimes the most humble of disguises hides the most," Samael smiled, demure and light. "Are the Gravuans expecting an invasion almost immediately?"
The spy lowered his brow and sniffed. "The common folk dread it; they fear it will be before their sons are old enough to pick up their weapons. The wise know better, and the king is pushing it back as far as he can. Now I ask of you," he glanced at Demuzi. "Is Varsala expecting to release his forces south soon?"
"Eansevat?" Demuzi asked suddenly.
The man leered, fists clenching and unclenching. "Eansevat would be here were it not for his immaculate disguise."
"When the Bergwaan are tamed, he will move quickly, more quickly than you think," Demuzi lashed back.
Samael ignored Demuzi's backing for him. "Varsala would reach your southern shores within a week, and your king knows this. I would tell you to warn your king and advise him to prepare now if he wishes for a fair conference."
"I would tell him no such thing! The king is wise of Varsala and the land of your people -- it was ours not so long ago, if you can remember that clearly. Or has your Aramierian petulance caused you to forget all your trespasses? No, I suppose you thought this land was rightfully yours. Believe me, we will take back what is ours, as will the Bergwaan."
Samael spoke out before Demuzi could. "You, who are you to threaten us? If you are so bold, I would bring you to Varsala tonight!"
"Sentinel or not, monk, I do not fear you."
"Now," Demuzi interrupted. "What else has Eansevat to say?"
"A timetable. Of the Bergwaan uprising, when his cohort will be sent down to him, and the arrival of his orders of return."
"Within the moon's rising, the Bergwaan will be quashed. That is all that has been conveyed to me."
The man frowned for a moment, then reverted to his twitching. "And his return?"
"Next time," Demuzi waved his hand. "Varsala lauds his patience and excellent work." He withdrew a piece of paper folded three time with a dark red seal upon it. "This is for him, a personal word from the emperor himself."
He sniffed, snatching the letter from Demuzi and stuffing it roughly into a pocket inside his coat. "I bid you farewell." He started for the open balcony, ignoring Demuzi's polite nod and step backward. Samael watched him pass by, the man willfully ignoring him and sniffing.
Samael pounced on his back.
His left arm curled tightly around the spy's throat, his right hugging his shoulders back and palm covering his mouth before he could scream. Tighter. Tighter. Squeezed tighter. Humans were soft. Through his inner arm, he felt a few muted clicks, and then man's body went limp. Samael let him fall to the floor, watching the body slump to the side, the head lolling unnaturally on the smooth stone floor. An icy chill rushed upwards from his toes to the tips of his fingers, up his spine and to the base of this human skull that called his own. He tightened his jaw, nostrils flaring and suppressed a smile. There was a small choking sound from behind, and recalled that Demuzi had been watching him the whole time. He turned around, forcing his facial muscles to relax.
Demuzi had a hand over his mouth, his black eyebrows like a "v" over his crystal grey eyes that glittered strangely at him. He removed his hand. "And the purpose of that?"
"He asked too many questions."
"The emperor needs him to return to Eansevat, you fool!" He hissed. "And now what do I tell him! And the body!" He looked down at the crumpled man on the floor, and his eyes glittered even more than before.
"I will take care of the body. And I will speak to the emperor, if you would allow me."
Demuzi narrowed his eyes. "He will have your head cut off. You believe the man to be a spy on top of a spy?"
"I would not give it a second thought. You elaborate too much, and you do not reveal to a spy anything at all. He is a spy, not a messenger."
"He is a spy's messenger," Demuzi muttered, walking towards the corpse. He stood a pace away from it, leaned gingerly forward and reached an arthritic hand into the man's coat. He retrieved the emperor's personal note and seal, now crumpled and creased. "Perhaps I will take you to Varsala. This was a foolish thing of you to do, Samael. I consider it an action against our emperor."
"Take me with you," Samael again suppressed a smile, and instead, raised an eyebrow.
Demuzi turned and began walking back to the steps that descended to the cloister below.
Samael stood silently, waiting for Demuzi's ire to disappear from view. He turned his head to look down upon the dead man on the ground. Nashachiron, lord of avarice and prince of Hell, an offering, to your name and your name alone. May Basith-ilim show no mercy.
The body immaterialized when the last word was silently canted.
Samael began for the steps.
On the balcony above where the body once was, a small black lizard crested the balcony, light pink tongue forking as it peered after Samael.