Thursday, July 24, 2008



The spherical bath beckoned from an alcove on the far side of the room. A vermillion glow spilled through the panoramic window filling the opposite wall as the sun slipped below the horizon at the far end of the valley. Flavius sighed. The crushing weight of the previous week--had it really been a full week since he’d fled Culloden?--came down upon Flavius in a rush. His back ached. His feet throbbed. With every movement his joints seemed to grind bone against bone. Somebody or someone was still out there, trying to kill him, so naturally he was hiding out in the palace of the one person who, without a doubt, actually had executed Flavius in the recent past.

The idea made his head throb. The eerie familiarity of the Imperial court, the Palace of Un-pic Ja’ab and even the very room he now sat in was disconcerting. He ran his hand across the pale green carpet, the coarseness of the weave contradicted by the softness of the fiber. He remembered the sensation from before. Like the other memories from his wondrous sword, they weren’t quite comfortable--as if they were a well-made pair of new shoes not yet broken in.

Flavius’ head nodded forward before his stomach growled in protest, startling him awake.

“I hear ya,” he muttered, forcing himself to his feet. “No need to get testy on me.”

Flavius shed his grimy, tattered clothes along the way, not caring where they fell. He debated a moment on whether to carry Memory into the bath, ultimately setting the sword against the wall with a shrug. The bath wouldn’t harm it, but it’d be useless in such close confines and only get in the way. He hoisted himself awkwardly into the spherical bath--the entrance was designed for the long-limbed subjects of the Eternal Dominion--and slid the door shut behind him. Then Flavius flipped open the valves, letting the near-scalding jets of saffron-scented water pulse over him, burning away his deep aches from every angle.

Flavius sat there for many minutes before his angry stomach prodded him to action. He closed the valves and the bath immediately inhaled, drawing out every drop of moisture and leaving Flavius drier than when he’d entered.

He climbed out of the bath much refreshed and encouraged. Deadly acid hadn’t spilled forth from the valves in the bath, after all. Knife-wielding assassins hadn’t sprung upon him from the shadows. Perhaps Emperor Camargo’s claims that he bore Flavius no ill will were sincere.

The room had grown dark. A handful of stars twinkled in the evening sky as the scattered solar trees in the terraced gardens outside his window flickered to life. Flavius took in the ethereal scene, half expecting the fey folk to appear, dancing along the pathways.

Then he realized his clothes were gone.

A jolt of panic rushed through Flavius. He turned to where he’d left Memory. The sword remained in place. Quickly he snatched it up and turned to face whatever threat might be lurking in the shadows around him.

“Have at me then, if ya got an ounce of courage in ya,” Flavius challenged. “Have at me and quit skulking in the dark.”

Two round eyes blinked at him with reflected light.

“No challenge to you, sir. No threats, no skulking,” the peq said, shuffling forward. “Our lot’s not to fight. We’re only to serve.”

Flavius exhaled, but kept Memory ready. It looked like the same peq that’d led him to his room earlier, but he couldn’t be sure. They had a troubling sameness about them Flavius found confounding. “What’re ya doing in my room without my leave? What’ve ya done with my clothes?”

The peq looked puzzled. It blinked slowly, as if buying time as it chose its words carefully. “I’m in your room because I’m tasked with readying you for dinner, sir. Your clothes are laid out on the bed, ready for you to dress.”

“Lights up,” Flavius said, and the room’s rim lights glowed to life. Flavius looked to the bed. Lying there, neatly folded, was his finest dress kilt, white silk stockings, pale blue shirt with intricate black and white embroidery down the length of the sleeves... “Good God-- where’d ya get this?”

“From the wardrobe, sir,” the peq answered. “It is yours, is it not? It’s my understanding that you’d left it here--”

“No, yer right. Damn. I did leave it here.” Flavius opened the built-in wardrobe beside the bed. His travel pack sat there, clean and ready, next to a pair of polished black shoes and heavy leather boots. Above, neatly arranged on hangars, were several shirts and three separate kilts and the sporran he’d had made in Trammila that was magicked to only open at his command. “Open yer maw,” he said, and the sporran clicked open. A quick inventory showed the sporran contained a half-dozen Potentials, the finger-sized inter-cosm locator Parric’d long insisted he carry, a half-empty flask of single malt and a tin of powdered Absinthe. Flavius took a swig of the single malt and smiled as it burned its way down to his belly. “Ah, that’s the spirit.” He took another swallow, then shrugged and downed the whole thing.

The peq watched him patiently.

“Sorry lad, I’ve gone off and forgotten my manners,” Flavius said, capping the flask and putting it back into the sporran. “I’d offer ya some, but glutton that I am, I’ve finished it off. It’s this coming upon places I’ve already been, making claim to my property what I’ve never seen before... Rattles the nerves a bit, ya know. I’ve got some powdered Absinthe if ya like.”

“Sir’s generosity is too kind, but I fear your powdered consumable would strike me dead were I to ingest it,” the peq answered.

“Yer probably right,” Flavius said, closing the sporran. “It is pretty brutal stuff. Close yer maw.” The sporran clicked shut.

“Now, there was something... something... Ah! Dinner!” Flavius said, and started for the door.

The peq cleared his throat.


“Perhaps sir would like to dress before attending dinner with the Imperial court?”

Flavius looked himself over, confirming that he was indeed naked. “‘S probably a good idea, that,” he said, returning to the bed. “I dinnae usually go out naked, mind you. It’s just I’ve nae eaten a decent meal in close to a month, what with Bonnie Prince Charlie’s war going sour and all. And that drink on an empty stomach...”

“Understood, sir.”

“It’s the empty stomach, ya see,” Flavius said, pulling the shirt on over his head. A silver brooch with wortleberries of blue sapphires so dark as to be almost black dropped to the floor. “Hello, I’d forgotten that bonny wee bauble. Did I ever tell ya how I got it?”

“Not to my knowledge, sir.”

“Oh, it’s a good story lad. Ye’ll like it.” Flavius got down on his hands and knees to search under the bed. “There was this dirigible captain what’d been doing business in Tradefare, regular like for years, loading up on exotic goods. Same’s everyone, right? Only this captain, when he’s getting back to his home cosm, he’s finding half his cargo or more missing. Gone, just like that. Now, I ken what yer thinking, but the crew couldnae pilfer this much cargo. Nae possible. And nae pirates, either. After three runs like this, he’s desperate, see? He’s lost so much, creditors are about to take his ship. So he goes to Knowicent and clever lass that she is, she refers him to me and...”

“Sir?” The peq cocked his ears forward when Flavius didn’t answer. “Sir? Is anything the matter?”

“You tell me, lad.” Flavius sat up, holding a featherscale between his thumb and forefinger.

It glinted brilliant crimson in the light.


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