Chapter Eight, Part One

"Emperor Varsala wishes to see you, my lord," the servant bowed deeply at the threshold. "I will await you."

Samael, still in his grey habit got up from bed. The bedspread was untouched as he saw no need to be under them. This itchy habit provided enough insulation anyway. His quarters were excessive and luxurious, tinged in brass and gold and furnished in walnut, containing all the amenities he needed and didn't need. The windows looked down upon the city of Aravot, and now that the sun had crested the mountains, the city's copper domes and rooftops gleamed brilliantly.

Humans require much too ample amounts of sleep, Samael grumbled, still feeling somewhat groggy and crusty. He washed up and left his quarters, finding the servant waiting for him. Wordlessly, the servant led Samael across a winding series of halls and steps. He consciously noted that he was descending within the palace, and soon enough, he found himself upon a grassy lawn, still wet from the morning dew. They followed a path of red stones to a house that still lay within the castle's walls, and there, his servant left him in the hands of another servant who led him down another level in the detached manse. They stopped at a set of double doors. The servant, without even looking at him once, gestured at the door.

Samael followed the instruction and opened the door. It was an atrium of sorts, plants and vines climbing up to the high glass ceiling. The slender silver frame hardly obstructed the crystal blue sky and delicate cirrus clouds, and the sound of birds chirping echoed throughout the room. Flowers and strange plants with broad fronds scattered across the floor, and a small path led to the far side of the room, obscured by the greenery

This path he followed, and as expected, he discovered Varsala seated upon a plain garden chair, his legs crossed and his hands clutching the armrests, face absorbed in thought. Like the evening before, a smoldering effulgence radiated around him. A circular garden table was next to him, which was covered in papers. A second chair was placed not too far from him, and this he made his way to.

Varsala still did not look at him when he sat himself down. He placed his hands in his lap and indifferently gazed around the room. The night before, he had spent considerable time staring at the ceiling moldings, pondering the whereabouts of Vespa, the things Nashachiron had told him, foretold, warned. While the god hadn't told him who exactly he was to sway, the things that needed to conspire were acutely precise. He didn't fear the inability to carry out these tasks; rather, he feared he would be speaking to the wrong man. The orb that remained in his pocket had remained cold, and insight upon this world had ceased. So far, he trusted Nashachiron to have led him correctly. The names the god had given him rang familiar, though their roles yet, he was unsure of.

"The Dalathould Empire is a dull empire," Varsala exclaimed.

Samael started. "I fear their presence is unknown to me."

Varsala hardly paid heed to Samael's response. "The Sarrphin king is invading them. Had I known, I would have made myself known to them much sooner."

"For what purposes?"

"They're on the eve of a civil war. Phaethon is known to be rather vain and impulsive, but I could not have expected this."

"An invasion is imminent?"

Varsala planted both feet on the floor and leaned forward, his eyes fixed on Samael. "He must know something. A civil war does not guarantee victory from the outside. Phaethon must have ulterior motives. Could it be ..." he paused, his gaze passing through Samael in thought. He shook his head. "No, it can't be. Phaethon is foolishly proud, but he's a dense fool."

This time, Samael did not reply.

Varsala's pupils dilated, refocusing upon his guest. "I pray we are not too late."

"You would attack the Dalathould Empire?"

"I would crush them to extinction," Varsala scoffed, lightly flinging a stray strand of black hair from his high cheekbone. "No, I will find the reason why Phaethon stretches his claws southward. What the Dalathould Empire has that is so significant, I wonder."

"They have nothing?"

"Their people are backwards, their officials are puppets of the Holy Vicar. They are an antediluvian state still teetering upon the brink of technology. That emperor Fathentis is an intelligent man, but otherwise utterly useless. A waste and a tool. He would rather debate in the Court while his kingdom rots than destroy his opponents and do what he wishes to do. A man who disagrees with you will never agree with you. Better to rid of them quickly than try to reason with them. Their land is a blank canvas, ripe for marching into the future, yet they prefer to wallow in the cesspools of their own ancient filth and dance to the puppeteer. They need a man who would obliterate the Court and the Vicar. Perhaps I would consider to be that man."

"What could the Dalathould Empire possibly have that you wish to acquire?"

"Well," a smile played on his lips and he leaned back into his chair. "An advantageous and profitable gain to the Allencians. For all purposes, location, the monetary gain, fresh souls. To be beside this Fanumni people--"

"Who are the Fanumni?"

The emperor frowned and tilted his head. "Has Iermlor shunned you?" He tilted his head the opposite way, now a smirk twinkling in his eyes. "Those that possess the knowledge of old. No one can enter their territory, from land, sky, nor earth. The gods' impression of a cruel joke. Perhaps the Fanumni are the gods. Or," he waved his hand and rolled his eyes. "Something lesser. They may not even exist, no one could know."

"If they did exist?" A strange sensation thumped mercilessly in his left chest cavity. The old and familiar rush raced through his arms to his fingertips, from his lower back to the skin of his skull.

"'If they did exist?'" Varsala repeated, raising an eyebrow. "You amuse me, Samael. I like your naivety, it amuses me. If I were the Dalathould Empire, I would find a way in. I am an inquisitive man, you may have observed."

He nodded, and the adrenaline faded. He remained unmoved, keeping Varsala and his radiance in his peripheral sight.

"My Sentinels will be arriving there soon, if not already. Have you anything more to say?"

He didn't hesitate. "I would wish to remain here."

The emperor's face was expressionless, and he stared at his guest for a long time. "I would concede, but I must see to make arrangements. That, my dear Samael, is not a guarantee. You amuse me, but you aren't beneficial. For now, you remain under Demuzi's care."

"I am within your will."

Varsala crossed his legs again and turned his face away. A hand with exceptionally long fingers pushed spatial crumbs at Samael. "We shall meet again."

Samael arose and retraced his steps to the double doors. The same servant waited on the other side and duly escorted him to the exterior of the manse and closed the door. The lawn was enclosed by the palace to the south and west, and to the east was a high wall that separated this greenery from the cascading city below. A neat row of well-trimmed trees lined the face of the wall. Samael remained at the entrance for some time, absorbing his imperial surroundings, when he spied a flat black creature skittering its way through the cut grass. It slithered and darted, but stayed on a fast course towards him.

He squatted, waiting for it.

The black creature approached him, stopped abruptly upon the red stone landing. It was no larger than the size of his hand from fingertip to wrist, a black serpentine thing with four spindly legs. The hind legs had five long toes, each ending in an equally long and straight nail, while the front legs were about half the length. Its neck was a third the length of its body, thin as a piece of string, supporting a narrow spiny cranium that tilted back and forth, its whitish eyes sparkling in the sunlight.

"A lizard, is that what they call you?" Samael smiled at the creature. He put a hand out to it, tempting to touch its spiny skin.

In one motion, it leapt into his palm.

Samael's smile widened.


She emitted a faint croak, arching her neck and stretching in joy. A third pair of arms rose from her backside, their single claws lightly scraping the surface of his hand. Samael raised his free hand to trace the ridges on her back.

"Vespa," he said again.

The slits in her eyes were narrower than could be seen even from this close distance. Those knowing eyes.

"I have found the one."

The End

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