Chapter Nine, Part One

He spent most of the following hour wandering the galleries and looking out of windows, staring for minutes on end at the lively city below. He scrutinized the airships that passed by, magnificent burgundy and gold pieces of metal, powered by what appeared to be some sort of magnetic force field. The way they hummed tranquilly, the way the rear sections of the underbelly made the air below and behind it ripple, it was the only explanation he could create. Vespa had hidden herself within one of the deep pockets of his habit, periodically extending her graceful neck and taking a glimpse at the world around her. For whatever reason, she always hid herself when another human passed them by. Some of them looked at him strangely but said nothing, while others strode past him without a second glance. Some were servants, dressed in their imperial garb, while others looked more official, swishing heavy embroidered capes behind them, gracing unusual hats, or donning grand colors, cuffs, collars and class. He paid no attention to them. Standing unaccompanied in this long suspended hall with glass on its upper three sides, he stood with his hands folded atop each other and turned his head this way and that at the scenery all around him.

A particularly large airship was approaching the panorama and he leaned forward to stare at it. This was no ordinary transportation or leisure ship. The numerous silver caps on the sides of the lower hull, the sleek aerodynamics and its impressive size indicated that it was something more. Banners rippled in the headwind, long and wide red and gold banners, a symbol on it that he couldn't quite distinguish. Those below could see, but not from this height. It neared unhurriedly.

"Glorious, isn't it?"

Samael tore his eyes from the ship to a short man with white hair standing beside him, smiling at the incoming ship.

"What is it?" Samael asked.

"Oh, one of the old warships. I know the pilot of that ancient architecture of grandeur. He likes to do this once in a while, and the crowds always gather to look at it."

Samael turned back around to look at it. It traveled so slowly and it was still far in the distance, but he could feel a slight disruption in the air, a faint rumbling in the floor.

"The old Emperor Alaric, rest his soul, used to ride that ship often. The Claret Queen, she's aptly named. A fine tribute to the solid machinery we're so well-known for."

"It is indeed most imposing," Samael nodded.

Fast as lightning, searing heat pressed against his left breast. Streaks of burning pain piercing right through him. Gritting his teeth, he clutched the habit and flinched in agony.

Darkness fell upon him. He gasped for breath, then realized that he was no longer standing in the skywalk of Varsala's palace. The pain vanished. Vespa clawed in his pocket and he reached in and scooped her up. She squawked, a tiny voice that seemed muffled in this pitch black atmosphere.

"Finally!" A harsh voice barked from the black. And not a moment after, Nashachiron appeared before him, his presence casting a weird blue hue around them both. "Your cursed creature is not all too bright, is she?"

Vespa flattened herself against Samael's hand and shivered. Samael covered her with his other hand.

"She is the link, my lord?"

"Of course!" He eyed the thumb-sized head peering out from between the daemon's hands in silent reprove. "Report?"

Report? Samael frowned. "You do not hear my conversations? See my existence?"

"It is not for you to ask, helot. I feel your presence. I feel your success. I feel your failure. Demand of me one more time and I'll have you thrown into the Abyss in a thousand pieces!"

"Emperor Varsala fancies the idea of having me stay with him. Demuzi--"

"Never mind that puppet. What of the empires?"

"He has sent out two of his guards to the Dalathould Empire, my lord. They are arriving there now, or have been there for quite some time. I believe Varsala was readying to communicate with them after I left his presence. The Dalathould Empire appears to have their own problems, something of an aggressor is approaching their capital from the north."

"How close?"

"Imminent, if not already waging combat, my lord."

Nashachiron straightened. His eyes darkened and seemed to sink into his head. Those black pits were not in the present.

Samael stood still, cupping Vespa inside his hand and staring unabashedly at the god. Nashachiron's body began to fade, the bluish light began to dim. For a moment, Samael saw right through the god, and an uncontainable tremble shuddered through him.

Like forks of lightning, surges of life-draining power stabbed him from front to back, passing through him in slow-motion. Wave after wave of exhaustion billowed over him, through him. Though he stood on nothing, weakness and a throbbing numbness in his head made him double over. He thought he could hear Vespa screeching, screaming, her wails like a siren pulsing in and out of his hearing. His human skin felt tight, every muscle in his body felt like dead weights, pulling him down but not falling. Just collapsing into itself. He saw himself a pile of flesh and bones suspended in nothing.

He stood face to face with Nashachiron. The weight and numbness a fleeting memory. Was it even real? The god looked down at him coldly.

"I cannot stall him long. You know what must be done."

"So soon? I--"

"You dare question--!" Nashachiron fumed. "Curse that -- that blithering -- of all -- you!" His eyes were completely black, glistening like murky liquid, they overtook him, there was nothing but boiling black, roiling and a squirming black. They consumed him. Like liquid metal pouring over him.

He screamed.

His body was burning, melting away. There was nothing to feel.

A rush of icy air. A vice grip burning with white lava squeezed his throat and pulled his whole body forward.

"The Abyss awaits you," a serpentine voice hissed in his face.

His body was falling away, his head floating on nothing. His throat scorched into oblivion.

The heat disappeared in an instant.

His head hit something solid; the breath was knocked out of him as the rest of his body thudded on a hard surface.

He lay on a cold floor. The thin strip of carpet did little to cushion his fall from some insurmountable height.

Groaning, he squeezed his eyes as flashes of hot pain stabbed through his skull. The burning subsided and he caught his breath, exhaling deeply.

He opened his eyes. A blue sky behind curved glass. The shuffling of footsteps. He couldn’t move his head and instead rolled his eyes to his right.

The old man with the white hair. A look of horror on his face. He took another step back, his arms tensed and curled up onto his chest. His eyes stared one more second at him, then closed tight.

The man ran.

Samael took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His entire body was sore, and the back of his head throbbed in pain. Vespa stirred inside his pocket but didn't dare come out, her tiny frame still quaking, reminding him that what just happened was very real, and very grim.

The End

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