Tuesday, September 16, 2008



The aerial waiters swooped down, gathering up the dishes as the tables separated.

“Damn ya, no!” Flavius shouted, swatting at the waiters. He grabbed Parric’s table with a meaty hand to keep it from drifting off. “This other Crafter then, he tosses magic around like I wish ya would?”

“It is not majickings.”

“Damn it, Parric, everything is magic to me.” Flavius strained, to no avail. The tables pulled apart. “Is this Red Crafter as nasty a piece of work as Whistard Holdchau?”

“I’m not knowing. The unpleasantings of Whistard Holdchau are sometimes beyond even my believings,” Parric answered. “But Holdchau is not even close to the same level of dangering as Crafter Not-of-Onimik.”

Flavius strangled a moan of despair in his throat.

“Be finishing your dinner, then go straight to your room,” Parric directed as other tables drifted between them. “And stay out of troublings. I’m having some things to be checking first. Be ready for quick leavings, just in casings.”

“Parric, ya nae need tell me that twice.”

“And stay out of troublings!”

Flavius started to shout something rude in reply, but caught himself. Although he was looking directly at Parric, the Crafter seemed to flicker in the edges of his vision ever-so-briefly. “Beastie’s up to something,” Flavius muttered. “Funny how he’s good at leaving me to the wolves...”

Flavius’ table rotated as a waiter dropped a plate in front of him. Orange and green squares were piled high, opaque, gelatinous things that seemed to crawl about of their own accord without the use of legs. Blue-striped berries rolled between and over the squares randomly. A frothy red liquid now filled his glass. From the gasps of shock, astonishment and delight rising up throughout the hall, Flavius guessed these were more of the Empress’ last second menu alterations.

“A bit ostentatious, serving troesken as the fourth course. I wonder what my debauched wife has in store for the rest of the evening?”

Flavius snapped around just as the Emperor Camargo’s table merged neatly with his own.

“I-- I wouldnae know anything about it,” Flavius managed, watching as Camargo easily speared one of the squares and nibbled around the edges. “All of the foodstuff here are a might exotic for a simple lad like myself. Give me a haggis with some mashed tumshie on the side and I’ve got myself a feast.”

Emperor Camargo stared at Flavius intently for a moment, then smiled. “I have absolutely no idea what you’ve just said, Flavius. I suppose that makes us even.”

Flavius managed a forced laugh. Desperate for any reason to avoid talking with Emperor Camargo, Flavius speared one of the troesken and shoved the entire square into his mouth. The troesken immediately adhered to the entire inner surface of his mouth, knotting itself in particularly aggressive fashion about his tongue. The taste was vaguely chocolatey, with an overriding toasted nuttiness. And heat. What started as a pleasant bite grew steadily into a blazing inferno.

“You never cease to amaze me, Flavius,” Emperor Camargo said, taking a sip from his glass. “Most men struggle to nibble a tiny bit of troesken at a time. I limit myself to a single bite, and a modest one at that. It’s always struck me that women seem to enjoy greater benefits from it, for some reason. But you, I must say, you are a marvel. An entire square! Caution is for lesser men, eh, Flavius?”

Flavius offered a noncommittal nod in response, blinking rivulets of sweat from his eyes.

“You know, there are some here in court who believe you a man of genius. That you are a scheming plotter who makes no move that isn’t well considered a dozen times over.” Emperor Camargo took another bite of troesken. No sweat shone on his lip. His eyes betrayed no hint of heat. “Others think you a fool, a mere pet the T'ul-us Tzan keeps around for its own amusement. Convincing arguments have been made for either alternative. Do you know what I think?”

Flavius shook his head, struggling to part his lips. The troesken felt as if it would burn through his cheeks at any moment.

Emperor Camargo leaned forward. “I don’t think you’re a genius or a fool. I think you’re simply a man, as stupid or as wise as any lesser sentient. You are curiously gifted, though, and your companionship with the T'ul-us Tzan is something that intrigues me--and I’d long thought myself too jaded to be intrigued by anything.

“I’ve not forgotten the service you and the T'ul-us Tzan rendered in the fourth cosm of the Eternal Dominion. Your actions spared us far more scandal than you could possibly know. Which is why you’ve been granted far more privilege in the court than any other lesser sentient could dream of,” he said. “I am going to offer you some advice, which is not something I normally do. Listen closely, Flavius, because I will not repeat myself: Leave the Eternal Dominion. The sooner, the better, for your sake.”

Flavius finally managed to force his mouth open. Immediately, he grabbed the glass before him and gulped at the crimson fluid.

Lightning exploded in his mouth. Flavius jerked back against his chair, his hair and beard a sudden spiky mass. Even the hairs on his arms stood stiff. A faint wisp of smoke escaped from his lips.

“I might suggest sipping ja'na winic in moderation,” Emperor Camargo said casually. “It has the reputation of reacting... aggressively with the troesken.”


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