Friday, July 4, 2008



Flavius’ footsteps echoed eerily in the deathly silence of the hall. Barely a dozen liveried staff milled in confusion along the perimeter of the oblong chamber, with a like number of guards spaced at even intervals, cuayabs held unobtrusively. The balcony boxes, halfway up the vaulted ceiling, remained empty.

At the far end of the audience hall, seated upon ornate thrones on a raised marble dias polished so brightly it hurt the eyes to look at, were the Tricentennial Emperor and Empress.

His skin was darker than the majority of his subjects, almost rust-like, yet his silvery hair grew full and flowing from his head down into mutton chops framing his face. He informal dress of ivory-colored shirt and pants with blue and gold embroidery spiraling around his limbs and torso. He wore a black leather belt studded with gemstones around his waist and an amorphous fan-like ornament of fluid colors hovered above his shoulders right behind his head in lieu of a crown, creating the impression of a divine halo. He looked just a touch past thirty to Flavius’ eyes.

The Empress was wearing an ephemeral gown, of course--this one a relatively understated mixture of creamy yellow and aquamarine, with pinpoint traceries of light flicking across the fabric in a constant dance. Behind her throne, to the side, stood her ever-present handmaiden, Papantzin, her hair pulled back in an elaborate knot of braided coils run through with a large golden pin. The corner of the Empress’ mouth ticked up as Flavius’ eyes met hers. Papantzin remained stoic.

Flavius stopped in the center of the hall, hand prominently gripping Memory’s hilt, and looked the gathering over. “Nae much of a turnout for us, eh Parric?” Flavius whispered as his partner slithered up beside him. “Looks like we must’ve caught them more unawares than we thought. Ken we can take ‘em?”

“Probabling,” answered Parric, “but I’m rathering not.”

“Well, I’m rathering that bastard dinnae kill me again, so in light of that, I’m going to shove Memory up his-- hang on, he’s talking.”

The Tricentennial Emperor stood, spreading his arms wide. “We are honored, good Parric, by your presence among us. We see so few T'ul-us Tzan cross into our cosms, and we are all diminished by your parting.”

Parric dipped his head and antennae in acknowledgement. “It is my pleasuring to again experience Your Imperial Majesty’s legendary hospitaliting.”

“And Flavius MacDuff, of Clan MacDuff--”

Flavius tensed.

“--if I may be permitted to dispense with formality for the moment, it is good to see you,” the Emperor said. “You’re looking quite well. Doesn’t he look well, Malinche?”

“Indeed he does, dear Camargo,” the Empress answered with practiced disinterest, although her eyes watched him intently. “A veritable picture of health.”

Wide-eyed, Flavius glanced to Parric. “Ya daft bastard. Ya brought us to the wrong damned cosm, dinnae ya?”

“Don’t be stupiding. You’re rathering them attacking us instead?” Parric snapped his beak at Flavius. “And don’t forgetting the imperial protocol.”

Befuddled, Flavius racked his brain and it came to him in an abrupt flash from Memory: never address the emperor or empress by name, never compare yourself to them, never initiate physical contact... That last one, Flavius thought, was rife with all manner of pitfalls.

Emperor Camargo stepped down from the dias and strode over, clasping his hands to Flavius’ shoulders. “It really is good to see you again, although I must confess I’m quite surprised to see you so soon.” He glanced at Parric. “And you, Parric, your departure was rather abrupt as well.”

“Under the circumstancings, I’m not having much other choicings.”

“Yes, yes, I suppose not. Regrettable business, that,” Emperor Camargo said, drifting into a bleak reverie. As quickly as he’d drifted away, he snapped back. “But the sword worked, eh? Such a marvelous sword, with the power to raise the dead.”

“Not to contradict Yer Imperial Majesty, but the sword dinnae bring me back to life,” Flavius explained, finding the the conversation increasingly surreal. “It just passed on to me the memories of the other Flavius what died.”

“Semantics,” Emperor Camargo said, waving his hand in dismissal. “Although, in this case the semantics work in your favor. Death sentences are not negated by resurrection, my friend. Were you actually he, then your life would remain forfeit. Happily, that’s not the case.”

“Happily,” agreed Flavius.

Emperor Camargo pulled Flavius’ head closer to his and spoke softly. “The knowledge of what your sword can do was the only thing that made the whole sordid affair bearable, dear Flavius. Apart from your unfortunate transgression with the Empress, you and Parric have proven yourselves more loyal than many of our copil-blooded nobles. I’ll admit a great weight of dread lifted from my shoulders when the Empress Malinche informed me that you shed your sword long before she discarded the layers of her gown.”

Unbidden, the memory of her nude, six-breasted glory blazed in Flavius’s mind. Flavius glanced to her throne. Empress Malinche raised a provocative eyebrow, then flicked her tongue across a fingertip. A strand of gleaming silver hair slipped over her face. Flavius swallowed. “Er, right. Why is that?”

Emperor Camargo laughed free and easily, as if Flavius had made a witty joke a the expense or the courtiers. “Because lesser sentients are not worthy of such visions. Had your sword preserved any, shall we say, compromised memories of the Empress, your life would be just as forfeit as your predecessor’s.” He smiled. “Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that.”

Flavius forced a smile, not daring to look in the Empress’ direction. “Lucky me.”


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