In the Shadow of Heaven



Chapter Forty - The Emperor's Punishment


The Emperor's Punishment

“The Red King’s palace was built of stones. In the stones were the bones of all the tiny creatures of the land and sea. They carved the stones such that even these dead could sing glory to the Red King.”

-from ‘Fourth Song: The Reign of the Red King’

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The group that straggled into Aymon's office that morning looked worn and smelled like they had been crawling through the mud. They alternated between checking to make sure every one of their number was present and glaring at each other when they made eye contact. Aymon had heard some of what had gone on during the early hours of the morning, primarily from Hernan keeping Halen updated, as well as from hearing the reports of the three night watch members whom Sid had managed to overtake. Halen had apparently given them a thorough talking to.

Aymon hadn't looked at them as they came in, he simply sat at his desk and read over and over the message he had received from the Emperor. Halen stood behind him, as usual, and he did the glaring as the children walked in. They weren't really children, and he needed to stop thinking of them like that, but they certainly gave off the impression of kids who knew they had done something wrong. They slunk in, heads down, eyes nervously darting around, and they didn't seem willing to sit on the couches they were so accustomed to flopping onto. At least Sid came. That was a victory, despite all of the mess he had apparently caused. Though he had been the one to give the ultimatum, Aymon would have been sad to lose Sid. He was lucky that Yan and Kino were able to talk (or push) some sense into him.

Aymon let them stew for a second before he looked up at them, standing near the door.

"So, you've all decided to come to work today," Aymon said. His tone was perfectly neutral. "I was wondering what the ending of your little drama would be."

No one had anything to say. Aymon stood up from his chair, placing his tablet delicately down on the table.

"It seems that certain things have not been made clear to you all," Aymon said. "I would like to make absolutely sure that there will be no further misunderstandings between us." He walked towards the three apprentices.

Aymon wasn't quite sure how he wanted to approach this. The way all three of his apprentices had handled themselves irked him, to put it mildly, though Sid was the greatest offender. It wouldn't do to come down hard on him alone, as he might just run away again, but then again, Yan and Kino had tried to salvage the situation.

"None of you," Aymon said, looking at all three of them, "are blameless here. Each one of you has displeased me."

Yan stared down at her feet; Kino had her usual expressionless, thousand meter stare; and Sid clenched his fists, half angry, half afraid.

"Whose sin is the least?" Aymon asked. "Look into your own hearts."

Yan and Kino shot looks at each other. Certainly Sid wasn't the one who had made the smallest mistake, but perhaps they didn't understand what they had done wrong. It didn't matter, he was going to lay it out for them. Well, he might make them squirm a little bit more first.

"No one wants to say anything?" Aymon raised his eyebrows, staring at each one of them in turn.

From the back of the room, Halen sent him a message in the power. It was an echoed feeling of shame from one of the three apprentices (Aymon couldn't tell which), and a sense of mild annoyance from Halen. Halen was trying to warn him not to go overboard, but these were Aymon's apprentices, not his. He would treat them the way he thought was correct.

The three continued to be silent, and only Kino met his eyes.

"Well, let's try an easier question. Sid, what do you think that you did wrong?" Aymon asked.

"I didn't come to work. I tried to run away. I attacked members of the security team. I was stupid," Sid said. His voice was hollow as he repeated his list of mistakes. It was as though he was reading off a list of random trivia, not anything that had weight or meaning behind it.

"All of that is true," Aymon said, almost casually. "We'll return to that in a minute. Yan, what do you think your sin was?"

Yan was flustered, and didn't seem quite able to string together an answer. "I, uh, I- well, I didn't realize what was going on until too late?"

"Hm. No," Aymon left it though. He would get back to her after Kino. "Kino, what did you do this morning?"

"I was uncooperative," Kino answered. It sounded as though that was a stock answer she had been giving since childhood. Maybe it was.

"That's not it either. I see that only Sid understands what he did," Aymon said. "A shame, because being able to recognize your own failings is the first step towards growing."

The feeling of annoyance that Halen sent to him almost made Aymon stop his little tirade and laugh. If Halen weren't such a professional, he would probably be rolling his eyes in the back of the room. Halen had said earlier that he considered getting Sid back a success, and he wasn't worried about the shouting match the three had in the middle of the forest. Aymon took Halen's unspoken advice and tried to tone it down. He physically stepped back, giving the apprentices room to breathe, and went to sit on the couch. He waved his hand for the three to sit across from him. With some trepidation, they all followed.

"I'm not trying to make this difficult for you," Aymon said, switching his tone. "I just need you all to understand that your position requires certain behavior, and it comes with certain rules and responsibilities."

He looked at them, and they all nodded. Sid was sitting on his hands, and Kino was picking at a loose thread in the weave of her cassock. Yan was looking across the room at Halen. Interesting. Halen sent him a mental shrug, and Yan looked away, turning her gaze out the window, where the sun had finally broken through the clouds. It was lighting the whole office in a warm orange glow. Outside, workers were raking up fallen leaves and tending to the gardens, cleaning up after the rain.

"Kino, I'm disappointed that you lied to Yan and Sid. You cannot put words into my mouth that I never said. I wish that you would discuss any problems that you have with me, or with anyone for that matter, before unleashing them upon your peers. Sid, for all his faults," he cut himself off before he said 'and there are many', "does not deserve you blaming him for your own personal problems."

Finally, one of the apprentices took the initiative.

"What did Kino lie about?" Sid asked. There was the unspoken question 'and how do you know' in Sid's tone.

"While we were travelling, Kino and I had a conversation about certain things that each one of us have in common. Kino misrepresented that conversation to mean that I favored one of you over the others. It is not true, and I am hopeful that none of you took her words to heart," Aymon said as evenly as he could. He didn't want to even repeat what Kino had claimed, that Sid would be his successor. It felt like it would give that statement more merit than it deserved.

"Oh," Sid said. "Okay."

"Kino, do you have anything to say about this?" Aymon asked.

Mechanically, Kino spoke. "I'm sorry for lying. I misunderstood what you were trying to say, and I'm sorry for saying things just to make people angry." There were several different problems buried in that apology, but Kino didn't seem intent on elaborating and Aymon wanted to move on. He turned to Yan.

"Yan, you also overstepped your bounds this morning." Aymon let a little edge return to his voice. "Do not presume that you can make orders. I am the ultimate authority, especially when it comes to you and your education. You cannot contradict or direct me according to your whims. Remember what your position is in this world, and stay within its bounds."

Yan nodded, looking down at her hands on her lap.

"Look at me when I'm speaking to you," Aymon said harshly. "You're not a child."

Yan looked up at him and nodded again. There was a glimmer of tears in her eyes. She wasn't crying, but she was close. Aymon backed off.

"Good. Now, Sid. You understand exactly what you did wrong. You put your…" Aymon paused, not wanting to say friends since the three had some sort of massive falling out. "You put Yan and Kino in danger by removing their support system. You were careless, cruel, and cowardly. Is this likely to continue?"

Sid scowled. "No."

"I'm glad that you think so. Although I cannot fully trust that you have returned to your senses, your presence here is a step in the right direction."

Aymon stopped talking for a second and looked at the three of them. "Unfortunately, I cannot let any of this go unpunished."

Halen sent him the mental equivalent of a sigh from the back of the room. Halen could read Aymon's own feelings as clear as text; he was mildly amused at Halen's wish to coddle the children, but he was determined to make sure his apprentices understood that he was the ultimate authority.

"Yan, because you don't understand what the bounds of your own authority are, you will not be given independent missions until you prove that you can be trusted again. The Anthus colony will be launching soon. Going there for the consecration is my next scheduled trip off planet. We shall reassess then whether you need to stay by my side or if you are capable of working independently." As far as punishments went, that was milder than anything. It wasn't as though when they stayed on planet they would have much scope for independent decision making anyway. Really all it entailed was extending Yan's workdays to the meetings that Aymon usually left his apprentices out of. It would be good for her.

Yan nodded, looking relieved.

"Kino, you need to spend more time with your peers. From now until I decide you're ready to work alone again, you will be performing all of your duties alongside your fellow apprentices. You will not be able to go anywhere alone."

Kino frowned, the first real reaction Aymon had seen from her.

"But you just said Yan would be with you," Sid spoke up. It was funny that he was ready to argue when he was the one facing the most trouble.

"That will be the exception," Aymon said. In reality, Kino would most likely get dragged along after himself and Yan. The more the merrier, he supposed.

"As for you, Sid, I need to know if you can be trusted to remain my apprentice," Aymon said. This was the one punishment that actually pained him to dole out. "We will be visiting the Emperor together, and your character will be judged."

"The Emperor?" Sid asked. He didn't understand the gravity of what Aymon was saying, but then he could hardly be expected to. Aymon had been keeping his apprentices away from the real seat of power for their own sake. He had not enjoyed his first meeting with the Emperor when he was an apprentice, and even as an adult, even as the Voice, Aymon still loathed going there.

"Yes," Aymon said. "You and I will go alone." By that he meant 'Yan, consider yourself lucky to evade this', but he doubted that Yan picked up on that.

"And what the Emperor do?" Sid asked.

"The Emperor will decide if you are worthy to stay here," Aymon said. "If you are, then nothing will change. If you are not, then I will have no choice but to send you away."

"Oh, I see," Sid said. "So much for me being welcomed back with open arms."

Yan looked at him. "Did you really think that would happen? You attacked people!"

Aymon laughed, and Yan looked horrified at her own outburst. "It would be nice if everything was able to be water under a bridge, but unfortunately we must be realistic. Not everything can be easily forgiven."

"Additionally, and quite obviously, you are going to be under constant watch from here on out," Aymon said. "And you're cut off from Vena, it was not a good idea for you to take it in the first place. I've had a conversation with Hernan about that."

"Yan let me take it too," Sid said, sounding petulant and whiny. Yan glared at him.

"Yan takes it upon herself to feel responsible for your actions, but she is not actually in charge of you. You can both be thankful for that," Aymon said. "Now, Yan and Kino, I believe Ms. Rosario can point you both to what you will be working on for the rest of the day. Sid, you're with me."

There was a second's delay as everyone processed their instructions. Yan and Kino got up and started walking out to go talk to Ms. Rosario. Kino left without a backwards glance, but Yan gave Sid a little wave.

"We're going to the Emperor now?" Sid asked.

"No time like the present," Aymon said. "I'm glad to see you fixed your glasses, by the way."

"I didn't. These are an old pair that were only half broken," Sid said. He pushed them up his nose nervously.

"Hm. Well, you'll need to change out that lens. It's unprofessional looking," Aymon said. He stood up.

"I ordered a new pair," Sid said. "They should come at some point."

"Why don't you make ones with the power, like you did for Kino?" Aymon asked. "Seems like you should have the ability."

"Ha. Kino's glasses pull from her power to work, and they relied on me putting in all my knowledge of sign. They were very tricky to make, and they're barely functional even with all the effort. They don't have all the context that sign has, and they only translate the words literally, with the barest rearranging to be coherent. They probably give Kino a headache."

"I see," Aymon said, though he did not see at all. He didn't understand anything about sign beyond the bare minimum, and he didn't have the time to dedicate to learning. He supposed he was lucky that Sid deferred to New Imperial when he was around.

"Besides, I'd rather just have the technological solution. They work well enough, and they don't require anything from me," Sid explained. His mannerisms and tone when discussing the technology were completely different. He must like all of that, the inventing and fiddling, much more than he enjoyed the day to day work of his apprenticeship. It was a pity. Perhaps the Emperor would send him away. Aymon would hate for that to happen, but sometimes such things must be done.

Aymon stood, and Sid followed him. Aymon's own stomach churned at the thought of what was coming, but it needed to be done. The Emperor had summoned him, after all, and he must answer.

"Where is the Emperor?" Sid asked.

"You'll see," Aymon said.

"What's he like?"

"You'll see."

The Emperor's chambers were dark and cold. Aymon coached Sid in the anteroom before the went in. Halen was waiting outdoors; he wasn't invited and didn't like being around the Emperor any more than Aymon did, so there was no point in him coming in. This was the most secure facility in the universe, though not because of the guards at the doors, or the enhanced security in the building.

"Don't try to lie," Aymon warned. "You'll be found out immediately. Just answer any questions asked of you quickly and honestly."

"Okay," Sid said. He didn't seem nervous, and Aymon wondered how much he should be prepared.

"Don't be rude."

Sid gave him a look. "I promise I'm not trying to dig myself a deeper hole than I'm already in."

"See, none of that," Aymon said. "Don't speak unless spoken to, don't try to resist anything that happens."

"Oh, I'm going to be everyone's little ragdoll again, I see." It was true that Sid had spent a lot of time over the past few days being jerked around by everyone. Aymon felt a little guilty about that, but not enough to apologize.

"No, the Emperor probably will not touch your body-"

"There's no creepier possible way you could have said that," Sid said.

"Sid. I'm not joking around here. This is serious," Aymon said. "If you want to stay as my apprentice, you need to behave."

"What if I don't want to?" Sid asked.

Aymon sighed. "Sid, stop. Just stop."

Sid relented, shoving his hands into his pockets.

"I can't tell you what facing the Emperor is like. Trust me when I say that you need to take it seriously," Aymon said.

"You sound like this is a death sentence." Sid wasn't wrong, and it very well could be, if Sid had committed some more major offense.

"Are you ready to go in?" Aymon asked.

"Are you?" Sid raised his eyebrows at Aymon.

No, Aymon wasn't ready. He never was. He was sweating, even in the cold room, and his whole body was strung tighter than the wires on a suspension bridge. He may have been hiding it from Sid, but he hadn't hidden anything from Halen outside, and he certainly wasn't going to be able to hide it from the Emperor who could see through him like glass. Sid wasn't ready, but Sid didn't understand what there was to be ready for.

Aymon opened the door at the end of the dark antechamber, and walked in to the Emperor's visiting room. Sid followed after him. The door swung shut behind them with a muted thud.

The place wasn't quiet, exactly, but there was a deadly stillness about it. The gentle hum of machines came from the back. The walls were covered by thick drapes, and there was a single spotlight pointed into the middle of the floor. While Aymon could appreciate the drama of it all, the drama was working against him this time.

"Where's the-" Sid started to ask, but Aymon nudged him hard, putting his hands on his shoulders and steering him into the center of the room, underneath the one spotlight. It was blinding, and it cast the already dark room into further shadow. There could have been anything out there. Aymon knew what was there, which made it almost worse. He kept his eyes open, though, waiting.

Perhaps if Yan had come she would have been forewarned by her sensing of the power, but Aymon had no such skill. He knew what to expect, and even then it hit him like a hammer, the voice echoing inside his own skull.

"Aymon, how good it is to be near you again." The voice was like a ringing chorus. Aymon's grip tightened on Sid's shoulders, but Sid didn't move; the Emperor was speaking only to Aymon. "You've brought your apprentice? Let me look at him."

The power withdrew from Aymon's mind just as abruptly as it had come. Sid jumped underneath his hands. The Emperor was inside Sid's head now. Aymon kept his hands on Sid's shoulders as comfortingly as he could, but Aymon knew the terror of the greater mind slipping inside his thoughts was nothing that could be prevented or assuaged. The Emperor was more powerful than any sensitive who had ever lived. The Emperor's will would not be denied.

Sid was trembling. The Emperor's attention returned to Aymon for a moment.

"Oh, Aymon, you have chosen an interesting apprentice. Leave us for a moment. We will call you when we need you to return." The Emperor must have sensed Aymon's reluctance. "No harm will come to this one while he is here," the Emperor said, sounding amused. "Do you care for him that much?"

"Yes, I do," Aymon said. He spoke aloud, though it wouldn't have made a difference whether he thought it or uttered it. The Emperor could see him down to the bone. With some hesitation, Aymon uncurled his fingers from Sid's shoulders, and started walking away. Sid stared after him, terrified. To his credit, though, he didn't plead for Aymon to stay. Sid's eyes rolled back into his head as the Emperor left Aymon and returned to Sid. Aymon slipped out into the antechamber.

It was a long wait before the Emperor summoned him again. Aymon paced back and forth in the dark room, fearing for Sid, and for himself. It wasn't as though Aymon hated the Emperor. On the contrary, Aymon respected the Emperor more than anyone else. But he did fear that overwhelming power and what it meant. There was no way to keep track of time in that windowless room. There were no clocks, and Aymon had left his phone with Halen; it wouldn't do to be disturbed while in an audience, so the fear stretched on and on. Finally, Aymon felt the brush of power against his mind; it was his summons.

He opened the door and re-entered the chamber. Sid practically ran out past him, face covered in tears. Aymon couldn't stop to question him; he would find out soon enough from the Emperor what had happened.

"Welcome back, Aymon." The voice was in his head again like thundering bells. He stood in the spotlight. He didn't say anything, and the voice chided him for it. "There is no need to hold your tongue here; we are all equals in the eyes of God."

That was easy for the Emperor to say.

"What did you decide for Sid?" Aymon asked.

"Ah, your reckless apprentice has done more harm to himself than to anyone else. We have punished him appropriately. He may remain with you," the Emperor whispered in his brain.

This was a non answer. "What was the punishment?"

"Is the punishment," the Emperor corrected. "Your boy submitted himself to having a block put on his power."

Aymon felt sick.

"Don't be afraid. It will be over soon," the Emperor said. "And he will not suffer for it."

"How long?" Aymon asked, voice cracking.

"Oh, Aymon, do not concern yourself with it. It will only be as long as it needs to be," the Emperor's voice was soft, feeling concerned, like a parent tenderly disciplining their child. "You remember…"

The memories of his own punishment rose unbidden to the forefront of his mind. It had been worth it, in the end, to transgress and then take the blame, but the punishment took its place among the list of worst parts of Aymon's life. Though he suspected that every apprentice or Second went through the same punishment at some point or another, it didn't make it any more pleasant for him to watch Sid go through it. The Emperor had inscrutable ideas about the concept of time, and these punishments could stretch on, and on, and on.

And Sid was so young, and this was so soon-

The Emperor sensed his thoughts and laughed mentally, a feeling like bubbles rising to the top of a fizzy drink, only felt in the spine. "I have foreseen that no major troubles will befall him," the Emperor said. "And I promise it will not be long."

Aymon gathered up the courage to step slightly out of line. "Do you think he will be a good apprentice?"

"God chose him for you. There is no need to question it beyond that. But we find no real fault that we have not seen before," the Emperor said. "There are others, and we look forward to meeting them."

"Someday," Aymon said.

"Do not tarry, Aymon. We see your heart. There is nothing here that you need protect them from."

Aymon squashed all of his unruly thoughts, trying to keep himself under control. The Emperor waited for him to finish.

"Now, on to other matters. We have forseen that there is trouble within the Trade Guild…"

Aymon and Sid took some time to regroup in Aymon's suite, far away from the pressures of the Emperor. Aymon appreciated that he had the time to spend with Sid, but he was worried about him. Sid was subdued, and Aymon didn't know what to attribute it to. The past day had probably been one of the most tumultuous in Sid's life. How old was he? Twenty-one? Twenty-two? Young.

The two were alone, sitting across from each other at the kitchen table. The lights were dim, but it was a cozy dimness quite unlike the darkness in the Emperor's chambers. Aymon had dinner brought up to them, just a simple meal of sandwiches, so that they could talk and recover. Sid surely needed more time and space to recover than Aymon did. For all that he didn't like his visits to the Emperor, they were familiar, and there was little the Emperor could do that would actually surprise him. He had seen most of the Emperor's tricks. They ate in silence for a few minutes. Aymon was waiting for Sid to speak, but Sid, accustomed to quiet as he must be, seemed to have no inclination to do so. Eventually, Aymon could stand it no longer.

"I'm sorry that I had to bring you there," he said. "There are few forces in the universe that I must answer to, but the Emperor is one of them."

"Who is the Emperor?" Sid asked. Aymon sighed. Of course that was the first question.

"I don't think you're ready to hear that information. When you’re ready, I’ll tell all three of you. Though I'm surprised the Emperor didn't tell you."

"Yeah." Sid poked at his sandwich. "How long is this going to last?"

"Another question I can't answer. It could be days, it could be months," Aymon said. "The Emperor has a different conception of time than we have."

"Why? What does he? It? Even do?"

"The Emperor has the gift of farsight," Aymon explained. "It involves, with great concentration, seeing anything that is happening in the universe, predicting with some accuracy the near future, and divining the events of the past."

"That's crazy. How?"

"In theory, it works the same way as you might use farsight to see what is in the next room over. You concentrate, stretch out the power, and then use what you know to interpret the information the power gives you," Aymon said. "Just on a much larger, more powerful scale."

"Well I won't be using the power to do anything." Sid scowled, rubbing his head. In a stroke of rare good thinking, he had put his tattoos 'away' before he tried to run in the night. They wouldn't be coming up to the surface anytime soon. "Every time I try to focus on it, I feel this horrible… static, I guess, and it drowns out everything."

"I know," Aymon said. "It's quite unpleasant. I'm familiar with it."

"Nothing like being on Vena, even though that has the same effect," Sid complained.

"I couldn't very well start drugging my apprentices to punish them," Aymon said. "You still need to be able to function."

"Ha. I'm a broken machine," Sid said. "I doubt I'll be working in peak shape anytime soon."

"No, probably not," Aymon said. He looked into Sid's face, trying to be as earnest as he could. "I consider everything that has happened settled, you know. No more hard feelings."

"That's easy for you to say," Sid said. "I still have to cope with all this." He swung his hands in a circle, encompassing his whole situation.

"You'll survive," Aymon said. His sympathy for Sid would wear off fast if he kept complaining.

"I don't just mean having my power taken away," Sid said. He looked sad. "That's whatever. Not like I use the power that much every day."

"I think you'll find you'll miss it more than you expect," Aymon said. "That's the point of the punishment."

"Really?" Sid asked. "What makes you think that?"

Aymon fished in his pocket for a second and pulled out a pen.

"Catch," he said, tossing it in Sid's direction but deliberately a bit wide. Sid reached out for it, and there was a momentary look of shock on his face as the pen slipped past his fingers, and the stool he was sitting on tilted. He nearly fell to the floor.

"No fair!" Sid exclaimed, righting himself. Aymon summoned the pen back over, and it flew into his hand.

"You tried to use the power there didn't you?" Aymon asked. "It's a part of you, and you don't realize how much you use it until you can't anymore."

Sid nodded.

"You'll get used to it. After all, you lived for however many years before you learned to control the power, you can live without it again for a little while."

"How am I going to train with Halen?" Sid asked.

"I think because of the schedule for the next month or so we're going to drastically reduce that sort of training time. You'll just have to stick close to your watcher and try not to get yourself in trouble."

"I have to trust Hernan to protect me?" Sid rolled his eyes. "I'm sure Hernan would rather see me dead at this point."

"I somehow doubt that," Aymon said. "Halen has told me that he speaks very highly of you. But if you want people to like you, perhaps you should try to be less abrasive."

Sid rolled his eyes. "If he can't handle me at my worst he doesn't deserve me at my best."

"I feel as though we have yet to see what your best is," Aymon said. "Maybe it's time you stopped holding your best in check."

"We'll see about that."

Aymon was glad to be having this more normal conversation with Sid. Despite all the trouble that Sid had caused and the threats that Aymon had made, he was still his apprentice, and that meant something real.

"Are you going to be able to patch things up with Yan and Kino? I know you fought with them," Aymon asked.

"I guess. If they don't hate me," Sid said. "I don't know what Kino's deal is."

"Kino is a very private person.”

"That's the understatement of the century."

"What I mean by that is that you will have to work hard to get to know her. Maybe put in some effort rather than brushing off what she says."

"I have put in effort!"

"Maybe you did before you left on your trip, but it's been a long time and many things have changed. There was a reason that Kino came with me rather than working with you. Even back then you didn't really get along."

"Fine." Sid seemed reluctant to admit to any wrongdoing in the case of Kino.

Aymon couldn't blame him; Kino was an enigma to everyone around her. Even her own minder, Deboan, confessed that she couldn't keep track of Kino's movements (cave incident notwithstanding). Kino was slippery and hard to understand but generally harmless, aside from yelling at Sid. Aymon didn't know what had caused her to take out her anger on him right then, but then again, he understood very little about his three apprentices. He thought that having selected people who were definitely 'compatible' he would find them easier to understand. Their lives and experiences were so far removed from his own, he had no way to connect to them. Maybe it was the generational gap, maybe it was the fact that he had been almost ruling the universe for the past two decades, or maybe it was just the simple facts of different backgrounds that made him feel like such an outsider to their lives. Had Carron Herault, his own mentor and predecessor, felt the same way?

"You're content to stay here, right, Sid?" Aymon asked, just making sure.

"Yes, obviously." Sid made that sound as if it should have been the clearest thing in the world, but he had just tried to run away not even a full day ago. "I see that I'm stuck here with you."

"Do you really feel stuck or are you just being dramatic?" Aymon asked.

"You're not the only one who's capable of being over the top," Sid said. "You know you could have just talked to me yesterday. I don't think you needed to make such a big fuss about it."

"I think you're wrong about that. You're vastly overestimating how coherent and stable you were," Aymon said. "Sometimes a little theatrics is just what one needs."

"You're crazy."

"And so are you, but let's not let that get between us," Aymon said. "Did the Emperor burn the rest of the Vena out of your system?"

"Burn, that's an interesting word for it," Sid said. He didn't answer the question, though. Aymon could assume the answer was yes.

"The stuff can linger, but as with Kino, the withdrawal period can be shortened by a little," Aymon said.

"Like when Halen wiped it out after Kino got shot?" Sid asked. "I didn't know that would stop the withdrawal symptoms."

"It wouldn't stop the mental ones- the cravings, the reasons why you were taking it in the first place. But it can help reduce the physical ones. Nausea, sweating, dizziness, you know what it's like."

"Horrible," Sid said. "Why didn't someone come help me earlier?"

"Let me ask you: were you really in a position to accept help?"

Sid made a face. "No."

"Then there's your answer. You're calmer now."

"Only because I worked all my stupidity out of my system, I guess."

"Sometimes that's what a person needs," Aymon said.

"You said that you knew what this was like," Sid started. "Did this ever…?" He trailed off.

"Oh, yes, I was punished just like this. But I was a few years older than you are. I was-" Aymon stopped to think. The time blended together in his mind. "I was either at the end of my apprenticeship or already Second. I don't really remember. But I made a decision that the Emperor disapproved of, and I was tested."

"What was it?" Sid asked. "What did you do?"

"I brought Halen under my wing instead of killing him," Aymon said. "If you're wondering, I don't regret it for a second."

"Ha. Nice. So the Emperor took away your power?"

"Yes. I believe the rationale was that if I was the only one keeping Halen in check, then Halen's disloyalty would be proven the instant I had my power stripped away. The Emperor and I were gambling with my life."

"Well, you didn't die, so I guess that worked out."

"It wasn't as easy or simple as it sounds in retrospect, but you're correct, it turned out well in the end."

"I'm glad," Sid said.

"I'm sure I'm gladder than you are," Aymon said. "Dying is not high on my list of things I'm looking forward to."

Sid laughed. "Betrayal, either."

"Well, that was early in my time with Halen. I'm not sure if it would have counted as a betrayal, more like something justified."

"Hm." Sid didn't seem to know what to make of that. "You're not worried he ever would betray you, right?"

"I'm fairly offended that you would even ask that question. But no, I'm not worried. Halen has proven his loyalty to me a hundred million times over. He's the last person I would ever think would betray me."

"Well, it's always those that getcha."

A note from javert

Well, forty chapters in and you finally get to meet the emperor. You didn't think Sandreas was the one in charge of the whole operation, did you? ;^) I've dropped minor mentions of the emperor throughout, but it hasn't really been relevant until now. I mean it doesn't really become relevant relevant until later, but you have to introduce most of the major components of your story within act 1, otherwise things end up looking like they came out of nowhere haha. So I'm just barely squeaking this one in.

I'd super appreciate it if anyone who hasn't rated/reviewed yet this story gave it an honest rating/review <3

Hope you all had a good weekend! I'll see you on Friday

update 9/16/19 - added chapter title

About the author


Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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