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As I walk across the circle, I sense power beneath my feet and realize what is happening. The untrained mages outside are not casters, they are fuel.

Semiramis is casually channelling a spell that will change the world, sitting on a comfortable chair, while a hundred mortals unwittingly do her bidding. I have no idea how she pulled that off, but I know that the skill required to do so should not exist at all. The glyph pulsates with more energy than the Herald ever had. I feel like I am standing on the surface of the sun, only separated from my impending doom by a hair-thin barrier and my host’s goodwill. When she invites me to sit, I comply.

The ancient queen leans forward in a suggestive way that shows a hint of cleavage, and I do believe those who appreciate this kind of thing would have lost their minds by now. The gesture is sensual without being vulgar, and the pose is so easy and graceful it is worth painting. Despite the dire straits I find myself in, I try to commit it to memory.

To my surprise, she serves me a cup of infusion from her pot. The liquid has an exotic reddish color and an earthy smell with a hint of spice.

“Try it.”

I hesitate, then realize that I should not refuse her hospitality. I have pretended to drink tea on numerous occasions. This is but one more.

I wet my lips with the liquid and its fragrance covers my tongue. As expected, earthy and spicy.

Its warmth covers my palate and I swallow. It has a minty aftertaste, peculiar and refreshing.

Hold on.

I just had tea, as a vampire. Impossible!

My eyes widen despite my attempts to remain composed, and my host smiles lightly. She drinks as well, then gazes at me with a hawkish focus. I feel like a deer before a pack of wolves. Her tone turns glacial and laden with threat.

“Before we go any further, does my son know you are here?”

“No… I mean, I do not think so?”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“In dreams or in person?”

My answer surprises her, I can tell, yet soon enough the interrogation continues.

“Interesting… Answer for both conditions.”

“1803 in person, and 1812 in dreams.”

“Ah. You were one of the discarded spawns. Lucky you. Well, you are not a threat and I know who set us on a collision course.”

“Who?”

She lifts a beautiful hand, pointing up. I realize before lifting my eyes what she is referring to.

“I thought it only watched?”

“Mostly yes, but it does pull on the strands of fate on occasion. Answer me one more question. What are you doing here?”

“We are close to my city. I thought that perhaps, the spell was a threat meant to destroy me as I was nearing my goal.”

“Is that so? What is this goal you are talking about?”

“I need to remain in control of a city for twenty years to be officially recognized as a city master. This will allow me to use a loophole in the Accords to circumvent the execution order against me.”

“Ah, I see.”

The controlling glare of the judging queen fades away and I am once more but a valued guest in the world’s most remarkable tea party. She takes a sip and continues:

“If you are not here on your Master’s behalf, then we are not enemies. You find me at a most curious time little one. What are you called?”

“Ariane.”

“Ariane, mhh. An old name. In any case, I find myself occupied by this dreary task until the end of summer solstice, and I am in a mood to entertain. It has been a long time since I had a conversation for the sake of it. I assume you have questions?”

“Yes!” I blurt out, “Plenty!”

Her expression turns patient and understanding, like a teacher with an interested student.

“Ask then.”

“What are we?”

Semiramis looks stunned for a moment, then laughs merrily. The sound is like chimes in the wind, ethereal and pleasant.

“Aaaa yes, I can see why you could resist me so. Truly, you have a peculiar mind little one. Very well then, let me tell you a story. It will satisfy your curiosity I am sure, and there is no better way to pass the time. Ahem.”

The queen sits straighter and captivates me with her dark eyes. Gradually, the world around me fades until I can feel warm sand beneath my feet, the smell of heated stone and spices and the din of a humanity that existed at the dawn of time, before reason and enlightenment made man the center of the world.

“Almost three millenia ago, there was a land between two rivers where city states grew like roses in the desert. They flourished into empires or were sacked and dominated, but in the end, they would all perish to leave the scene to others. I was born in one such kingdom.

“It was a time where magic was not hidden. It was one more tool in the panoply of majesty that all rulers coveted, as only those favored by the gods could wield such blessings. When I was twelve, I manifested this magic, and used it to kill my father.

“Instead of being put to death, I was married to king Ninos as his third wife. He was eighteen and needed the support of gifted individuals to secure his rule and his line. Three years later, I gave birth to Nirari, my son. He is my only male child to reach adulthood. The others were assassinated.

“When he reached fifteen, he led our armies against barbarians from the West and emerged victorious. His arrows were the first to slay a foe and his chariot, the first into their lines. His skill and ferocity were made legend then, and when the Hittites slew my husband, I became queen with his support. By then, I had eliminated the other consorts and their progeny while warding off dozens of attempts on our lives. We had poured molten gold in the mouths of mercenaries bought to kill us and lathered the genitals and anus of assassins with honey before burying them in red ant’s nests. I had sent terrible curses on our enemies so that their fingers would rot and maggots would crawl out of their head as they were still conscious.”

Oh. Wow. And I thought brother Achilles and I had big fights.

“In the next few years, Babylon became unmatched. Tribes and cities would send us tithes and offerings of slaves and gold. They would send their princesses to give my sons descendants of their blood, but it was not enough.

“I was the greatest mage who ever lived and still, I knew that I had access but to a fragment of what could be done. I found reflections of alien planes and strange people, civilizations before which we were but children squabbling in the dirt. I needed more time than a human body could provide, much more time. And so, I searched far and wide for something that could pierce the veil of our reality, a reality that resisted magic more than most. It needed to be powerful enough to grant me what I desired, and honorable or patient enough not to destroy us. And in the most remarkable of places, I found it.”

“What? What did you find?”

Once more she lifts a finger. I am too stunned to accept this answer.

“Impossible!”

“Very much possible. The Watcher was all of that and more. You may think of it as both an almighty being and a toddler. The most accurate description I can give of it, is that of the sliver of a creator god. One day it will die and give birth to a new universe.”

“No that’s… You can’t know all of that. It’s impossible.”

Genuine dread constricts my chest and freezes my mind. She can understand what is unthinkable? That would make her mind that of a god and I refuse… I absolutely refuse to accept this. No human mind should comprehend this. It isn’t right! Surely...

“Trust me, I had a very, very long time to study my partner. Communication was arduous at first, but I did not give up. When I told you that I was the greatest mage who ever lived, it was not hubris. I really was, and I still am.”

I force myself to calm down a bit, surprised by my lack of control. I consider the might of the spell under us and the hundred people outside, laboring to an end they probably do not even understand. She can manipulate all of them, mesmerize me and cast this incredible working all at once, while sitting at a table having tea. Yes, I can believe her, and it terrifies me.

After a pause, she resumes her outlandish tale.

“I struck a bargain with it. I needed immortality, it needed knowledge. It was, I think, curious, and a little bored. In return for my prize, he asked to be let in. I could not achieve this. He cannot come to this planet, no more than a grown man can get into a thimble. So instead I offered him an aperture through which he could see and even interact by the tiniest of margins. Vessels to carry his essence. You.”

“Are you telling me… That we are tools so that the Watcher can spy on this world?!”

“Not spying. Spying implies a malevolent intent. It learns and, perhaps, entertains itself. I received the power to alter my essence into that of an immortal and in return, I created the elixirs filled with its essence to share and spread to humans who would interest it throughout the ages. The unleashed alien potential turned them into Progenitors, the first ones, whose bloodline powers reflected their very nature. All vampires carry this foreign mark. That is why your existence is denied by the sun purifier, why you cannot create life and need to steal it from others, why calls to a creator God deny your existence and repulse you, and why the soul of the person you were needs to depart before you can rise again. The Watcher cannot create here, only alter, and your nature is reflected by this.”

“Wait, hold on, wait. I still have my soul. I am still… me! It’s just changed! No?”

Semiramis shows something that I cannot accept: pity.

“You believe you are the same? Oh, poor thing. Her memories and spirit are yours now, but her soul is gone to wherever souls go, replaced by vampiric essence.”

“I… what? No, you are wrong. I am me! I am still me! Ariane Beatrice Lucille Reynaud! This is a lie, a travesty. Papa, he… I cannot accept this.”

“You are still you, yes, but the mortal girl is dead. I am so sorry.”

I don’t have a soul? I Don’t have a soul, at all? I am… not her? Then, when I woke up in that cell under the fortress, those were my first moments? Then… the human Ariane died under Master’s tender care, and her last three days were spent lying broken and bloody. Tortured. Defiled. Just for having addressed a man at a party?

I look at the queen, expecting a hint of disdain or amused cruelty, but there is none. When she sees my doubt, she adds with a soft voice:

“I am telling the truth, on my honor I do so swear.”

This is bullshit.

I thought I was continuing being me, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I thought I was honoring myself by enduring despite what life had thrown at me. And now it turns out that it was all for nothing? I was masquerading a dead woman after stealing her violated body? This was all for nothing?

It was all a lie?

Is this what this world really is about? Cruelty and malice without end? Endless destruction without meaning? Suddenly, all I have witnessed surges back in me, unhindered by my usually cold nature. I remember those children who died in their own dejection as cholera ravaged their frail insides, those people murdered and scalped for being at the wrong place or those others summarily executed for being the wrong color. When I arrived in Marquette, there were whores stabbed in the chest and left to drown in their own blood and men with gut wounds who died slowly, their blood poisoned by their own shit, for nothing more than a fistful of coin. Was there a reason for that? The girls barely entering puberty who would show up at the Dream pregnant by some relatives, those poor assholes with missing body parts left to die by the side of the mine, did they serve a purpose? All of those, I ignored because they were mortals, and suffering and dying is what mortals do. Now, it’s coming back, all at once. All the pointless misery and senseless suffering. All the horror that can be blamed on nothing but fate. Was there a point to Ariane’s existence, to be snuffed like this, so cruelly? And she was not the only one. What about Penelope who retired seven years ago, only for her to lose her husband and children in a flood and hang herself afterwards? The Stevensons whose only child died of a strange and painful disease? Is there a point? At all?

There is no God. If there is one, it is merciless beyond measure.

I hate it.

I hate everything. I hate being cheated by fate. I hate having no immortal soul. I hate the lies I told Papa and myself. Do I even have a right to call him father? I’m just some parasite who stole the lifeless husk that was left of his daughter after Master had his fun. Fuck.

“Ariane, look at my hand, I will make it all go away.”

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

Annoying bitch. Did I ask you something?

“Little one, it is not weakness to seek help in difficult times.”

“Would you erase your own thoughts because they are not convenient?”

“I have.”

I lift my head in surprise at this admission. Her face is candid and open, and though I suspect it to be artifice, I am still appreciative of the effort. When she sees that I am paying attention, she continues.

“Some knowledge will destroy the mind. But enough about me, am I correct in assuming that you have a bit of an identity crisis?”

“And faith crisis, yes.”

“If you would refuse my magic, would you still take my advice?”

“No, thank you.”

A flash of anger, gone in an instant. You are angry? Really? Who gives a shit? Not me and not the original Ariane, because she’s dead.

What a fucking joke.

My dad, no, Ariane’s dad, I lied to him. I truly am a monster wearing the face of his child. Just a thief born from an alien God’s perverse curiosity. So, Watcher, you enjoy watching your pet creature fuck, drink, and kill huh? You sick bastard.

God fucking dammit.

Alright, enough, I need to calm down. Now is not the time to panic. I pinch the bridge of my nose and resist the urge to glance at the vampire star. Normally, it would fill my heart with calm, like coming home. Now, I just want that transcendental arsehole to get a comet up its cosmic arse or something. Since I am still facing the second most dangerous entity I have ever come across, I close my eyes and do the next best thing.

In an instant, my mental fortress appears before me and I leave the bedroom at its heart to walk through its inner halls. Tortuous hallways and illusory rooms fade in the background as I walk to the entrance. I will never get lost here, this home is mine. I know the emplacement of each memento, each statue and each tree. When I reach the grand entrance, the double doors bang open as a reflection of my mood and the garden greets me in all its glory. The purple tendrils look more subdued today, almost quiescent.

I cannot resist.

I look up to the dark aster that I always considered an ally. It looks down and once more to the familiar split pupil and red sclera. Its unconditional acceptance fills my heart with peace. And grief.

I died. She died. And now I’m here.

I will deal with this. I just need a moment.

I prepare to bask in the otherworldly light but something tugs at me. Several tendrils are insistently pointing in a direction.

I follow and my gaze lands on a distant wall. There is something happening there. I draw nearer and look at the border of my mind. As usual, a forest of thorny roots and branches without end blocks anyone coming in, or at least it should. There is something there that doesn’t belong, moving quietly through the otherwise impregnable wall. I focus and see the strange thing.

This place is me, and that thing is not.

I become more aware of that part of my mind, I survey it and gauge it. I can feel the wrongness, but I cannot identify it properly.

I sharpen my will to a point and inspect the wall strand by strand. This is me, this is me, this is me…

The anomaly moves back, trying to escape. This is not me. Those are not mine! Somebody is trying to…

I open my eyes to see Semiramis’ hand move back by a fraction of an inch. Our eyes meet.

A single droplet of sweat pearls on her august temple.

WEAKNESS.

That thrice accursed donkey-shagged vixen tried something, probably some sort of mental-based Charm. The way she made me think this was part of me is the same trick I use to Charm someone through a magical protection.

KILL.

For one long second, tension reaches a paroxysm. She is weakened. I know it for sure. She has been casting for a full day probably without stopping, without sleeping, a spell of incredible might. She tried to pierce my mental defenses earlier through brute assault and then used a more indirect approach because dominating me was too costly. She is at the end of her rope. I think.

I could take her.

Or, she could forfeit the spell and turn that power against me to annihilate my form in a split second. Can I kill her before she can cast? I am far from certain of it.

More importantly, she has kept Master at bay and that fits me just fine. I know if I meet him again, he will be able to order me around but I feel more and more like myself and right now, him being busy at the other side of the globe is perfectly agreeable. I don’t need him. I DON’T NEED ANYONE.

But I do need her alive.

Yes, that is right. I can’t deal with my pain right now. I need to get out of here alive because her death would not be to my advantage even if I were to somehow succeed. I check my mind for foreign influence and find nothing. It appears that it truly is my own conclusion.

What now?

Survival comes first, then I will find a way to come to terms with, well, everything. How do I do that?

A trade?

Let us test the water.

“By the way, I would like to thank you for your hospitality queen Semiramis. You honor me.”

She smiles graciously and with perfect ease, assumes another enchanting pose. I know for sure those are all lies and masks, but I cannot help but envy her appearance. I used to be one of the prettier ladies around, or at least human Ariane used to be, but I now realize that I am an ugly duckling compared to her. King Ninos did not stand a chance, and neither would Jimena.

She resumes the conversation as if attempting to bend me to her will was just a passing fancy.

“It is my pleasure. It has been so long since I had a, shall we say, proper guest. I am afraid that my pursuit is a lonely one, and this is truly a pleasant distraction. Spell completion will occur on the summer solstice, tomorrow, at midnight. You should stay to see it.”

Oh, she wants to play. Good. We are like two wild cats arguing over the remains of a mouse. Neither of us is willing to get hurt for it. We cannot afford to.

She cannot risk letting me go until she is done, this is clear enough. I am fine with that, though I need to guarantee my safety while I am here. There is also the matter of three nights being my limit for going without blood.

“I would be delighted to, but I would not like to impose for so long.”

I am pretty sure that eternal life means she is a magical being. I can reasonably trust hospitality if she offers it.

“Of course, you are welcome to spend the night here.”

“And the day?”

Once more, I catch a small expression of annoyance. Did she really plan on letting me roast under the sunlight? Unbelievable.

“Yes, yes,” she adds as she waves a hand dismissively, ”you will be protected until the spell is done, then you can be on your way. You have my word.”

That went better than I expected. I just need to confirm one more thing.

“Thank you so much, why I know that you value your privacy, and I am privileged to be in your company tonight.”

“Indeed. I do not need to tell you that this has to remain our little secret. I hope you understand.”

“It is as if you read my mind. Of course, I swear never to mention this meeting to anyone but you.”

The oath takes me like someone grabbing my heart from the inside. With this, our deal is complete. She will have to protect me and stay out of my head till the spell is complete, then we both go on our way and I will not speak of this.

Semiramis delicately refills our cups. The strange infusion is still piping hot and as tasty as ever. I decide to ask more of her, since we are stuck here anyway.

“You asked about Master. Do I understand that you do not wish your presence to be known by him?”

“Indeed not. We are at odds, him and I. While I wish to attain divinity through magical means, he has a much more direct route offered to him.”

“You?”

She nods, the gesture strangely attractive.

“You are correct. My essence changed to that of an immortal being and his blood is that of the conquerors. Should he devour me, I believe he would be truly eternal. I, of course, object.”

“He would do this to his own mother?”

Her chuckle this time is slightly bitter.

“Nirari no longer cares about this attachment, not after two thousand years, and especially not after what we have done to each other. You see, once he showed interest in tracking me, I had to destroy the means by which he could do so. I destroyed his kingdom.”

“What?!”

“I could not leave him the tools to chase me effectively.”

This isn’t what I meant at all. She can destroy a kingdom? By the Watcher!

“Why did you not just stop him? Surely, someone with your magical skills could have done it?”

The queen raises brows in surprise and for one moment she looks incredibly haughty. I almost expect her to order hidden royal guards to throw me to the crocodiles. Just like everything else, she is incredible while doing so. I am a bit jealous. Still, she replies.

“You do not mince your words. Very well, I will tell you what you seek. I did not kill him, because he was what was left of my son. I could not harm him in any way. I even helped him at first, as much as I could. I taught him all I knew at the time of magic, which he had previously neglected in favor of statecraft. It no longer matters now. He can no longer be opposed.”

“What do you mean? Is it because he devoured too many powerful foes?”

“He would be mighty but not invincible. No, the crux of the matter is that there are two things that make him untouchable. The first is my mistake. In the year eleven forty-two of your calendar, Nirari tracked down the dragon on the desertic shore of Erythrea. There, he faced it in battle, defeated it, and consumed it.”

“What!?”

“I should have seen it coming, in retrospect, but I underestimated him. Our world only ever had the one, though it was apparently weakened by our plane’s scarce magic. Dragons are… different from any other planar beings. They are magic made flesh. By draining one, he obtained enough magical strength to overcome mine with sheer brute force. I can no longer face him directly.”

“I… Wow.”

Dragons? Magical duels? I was just trying to survive until I get proof that I was a city master, and now I am thrown in some sort of fairy tale?

With no consideration for my distress, the Queen continues.

“And the second is his right arm. Ah, Ariane, unless he has gone to ground to create a new offspring, there are now three of his spawn that still walk the earth.”

Surely, I misheard.

“Three?”

“Yes. Svyatoslav in Russia, you, and a last one. The only spawn he kept and raised himself.”

“I did not see him at the fortress.”

“You would not, he is seldom involved in diplomacy. Child, let me tell you of Malakim.”

She leans forward once more, showing just enough golden skin to be distracting even to me. Her voice shifts into that of a story-teller. Where before I could feel sand and sun, now there is only darkness, blood and the clangs of battle, and her tone is as ominous as her words.

“Malakim is hatred incarnate. It is said in those circles that know of him, that he was born from a corpse, that he was reared by a Scythian witch who laced her milk with man’s blood and the poison of snakes. It is said that he killed his first victim when he was seven. It is said that in his first battle, he slaughtered both sides until only he was left standing. It could all be true. Nirari found him in the middle of bloodshed, as was his wont, slaughtering Turks for the Holy League. He was impressed, captured Malakim and turned him quickly.”

She stops her tale to take a sip of tea. Her next glance to me is wary and she speaks more intimately, as if she were afraid we could be overheard.

“You have known your master’s touch. All of the spawns who were successfully interrogated speak of the same treatment. Oh, I see doubt in your eye. Yes, even the men. He debases and breaks them too. He breaks everyone. Except for Malakim. His anger protected his mind, just as it torments him endlessly, so that even in the face of death he would not relent. Your Master threatened a clan with that story and when his demands were rejected, he unleashed his new servant’s blood-crazed form on a small island of the Aegean, exterminating its entire population. When the usual knight squad came to slay the errant spawn, Malakim managed to escape on their boat, killing one.

“I need you to understand that it is, and remains, an unique achievement. It had never happened before in history, and did not occur again ever since. The incident was even kept under wraps to avoid a loss of face and faith in the Knight order. Having witnessed his tool’s extraordinary abilities, Nirari took him under his wing and taught him more, then by means unknown, obtained his loyalty. He encased his spawn’s heart and collar in armor made of an otherworldly metal that could keep shape in the heart of a volcano and uses him sometimes as messenger, sometimes as a taskmaster but more often than not, as an executor. Malakim has been his mouth, his shadow and his fist. And wherever he goes, he leaves few survivors.

“Perhaps you do not yet understand why he is such an obstacle. With regard to that man, it is not martial prowess or intellect that define him, although he has those aplenty. What defines Malakim is his sheer, stubborn hatred. He was flayed alive, dismembered and castrated. He was whipped until he was but a slab of raw meat, he was pierced by serrated arrows, he was boiled and burnt. Still, he would come after his foes, ever more ferocious. He cannot be cowed, dominated, or reasoned with. His rage flows pure and unending and no amount of wounds or torture can stop him whenever he is set on a path of destruction. He never relents, he never gives up, until he has received his due. Mental magic has no hold on him, for to peer into his mind is to call madness itself. He smashes through wards and endures their punishments with careless abandon. He went a week without drinking as a Courtier to hunt down a foe. The monster’s focus is impossibly sharp, and its fuel is loathing for all of creation, including himself. No one has ever managed to inflict a lethal wound on him, and many have tried. He always gets back up and he never forfeits.

“That is what anyone would have to face to stop the Progenitor of the Devourers, and so far, none have found a way to overcome those odds. Have you seen your Master fight?”

“Only once.”

“Know that he is at his most dangerous when truly challenged, for then he will use his full power. You will know it when he takes out his soul weapon, a glaive he named Heartseeker.”

I wish I could make fun of this tacky name, but the memory of Master’s hand through a lord’s chest is still vivid in my memory. I am also surprised, as I do not remember ever watching him wielding a blade.

“I only saw him use his hands and some spells.”

“Then you have not seen him fight, you have merely seen him play.”

By the Watcher, truly this world is vast. My own struggles and achievements seem so petty by comparison, that I feel like a child boasting the sale of a bucket of apple to a British spice trader. I look briefly to the eye in the sky.

Why did you want me to see this?

My perspective changes once more, with straight lines being strangely curved and distance becoming meaningless. The Watcher’s pupil is now intimately close. It whispers, with a roar that deafens me, a very specific feeling.

When I was a kid, I played by myself a lot due to there being no one close in age. It was not too hard, as I had an entire court of bears and puppets lovingly provided by my father. One day, I was playing with a tea set I had made from broken clay pots and realized I needed some actual water to drink. I picked up a jar, hoping to fill it with water. I walked back from the garden into our house, through the main hall and to the back. I noticed that the door to the fumoir was opened and peered in.

Papa was playing cards with three men from town. On the table between them, there was a small pile of money. I count several whole dollars. It was more than I had received in allowances and gifts in my life up to that point.

I stared at the pot in my hands and realized what adult games were, and for the first time in my life, felt inadequate.

This is what the Watcher is showing me.

This world is a vast and dangerous place, an eternal playground where powers fight for the resources, lives and souls of its inhabitants, and the more one knows and the deeper they go, and the deadlier the game gets. This is the abyss. The ultimate game. Master and his mother are locked in a millennia-long race for godhood and whoever wins, we may all lose. If Master succeeds, he will Devour her and then, with her no longer stopping his rise to power, he may just take over the world. Who would stop him? Who would even know there was someone to stop? Even the order of Gabriel, so effective against our kind, may not have a way to slay him for good. Even if they managed it, the devastation could be unheard of. If she wins, who knows what she may do with her magic? Would she change the fabric of reality until we match Sinead’s land in fluidity, then announce herself as its sovereign? This is what truly is at stake, and what I have been shown.

I do not know why.

Compared to those old monsters, I am but a flea. Those two decades spent consolidating power and training are but a drop in the ocean that separates us. Why are you showing me this, Watcher? Will you also show the games of kings to a beggar? Do you not know that the nail that stands out gets hammered down?

I can’t get involved in this. Even if the world should burn because of everyone’s indifference, I will not be the one to save it anyway.

I am too weak.

Semiramis does not mind the silence, so I raise my eyes and glance once more into the curious one.

Is this what you want? To give me perspective?

It does not answer, I only get the general sense of contentment he shares since I gave him the Key. I need to remember that the Watcher is barely sapient by our standards. There might be no reason at all. There might be a reason, but he might not understand the circumstances. A toddler could gather all its pet ants in a single spot without realizing that they are in the middle of a fight to the death.

I need to get out of here in one piece and at the very least be legally alive. World ending threats will have to wait. Sorry!

“You are thoughtful, and this is a surprise for me. I knew that Svyatoslav was sane, of course. He could not have achieved so much, nor garnered the respect of those stuck-up Vityazi vampires if he were not. I had, however, assumed he was an exception. Say, you have seen my son recently. Yes?”

It appears that Semiramis is ambivalent. On one hand, she assures me that human Ariane is dead, on the other hand she calls Nirari her son. I find myself sharing her feelings in this matter. I still cannot accept that I am not her, at least not fully.

I don’t want to think about this right now. I decide to continue talking with her.

“Yes, I have.”

“Could you tell me about it? I haven’t seen him in person for so long.”

For one moment, I feel anger bubbling inside me. What does she want me to say? That he does not bind his victims so that they always feel like they can struggle and escape? Before I can say anything else, the cold nature of my mind reasserts itself as fury is replaced by calculations. It is a testament to my distress that the idea of having no soul can torment me for so long.

“I can, and while I do so, would you allow me to do something?”

“What is it?” she answers guardedly.

“I would like to draw you.”

This time, her surprise shows. Is it because of exhaustion or because she feels safe now that our bargain is struck, I do not know, but her expressions feel more natural. With an amused smirk, she points at a corner of the room where a small stand holds supplies. I do not remark that there was nothing there a moment ago. I just stand up, pick the provided tools and start working on different views and expressions of her. While I do so, I relate what I saw of him in the vampire fortress, then in dreams. She does not comment, only asks questions, then starts mentioning anecdotes of her life as a teenager an eternity ago.

Semiramis is a smooth teller and her stories are extraordinary. Her tales speak of vengeance and plans within plans. After a while, they all blur together as I draw her smiling, defiant, menacing or nonchalant. I expand to drawing her full body, then details until the task absorbs me completely. In this simple occupation, I finally find the peace that I had previously failed to achieve.

Soon, dawn approaches and the queen walks me to guest quarters that I am quite sure were not there when I arrived. As she turns around to return to her spell, I come to a great realization that soothes my heart. Semiramis may be more skilled, wise, and powerful than me. Her beauty might be legend and her grace unmatched, but no matter what, and for all of eternity, I will always have the better ass.

 

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A note from Mecanimus

A lot of revelations recently, but fret not, we will soon return to our regularly scheduled bloodshed. Stay safe.

Thanks for the reviews, you are all sweet and I could not be more proud. Next update on Friday as always.


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Mecanimus

  • Shanghai

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