Minis had just thrown some water on his face and flung his arms around his loves before Atzana told him that his emergency appointment was ready to see him. Kyriala caught him by the elbow and put a beef roll in his hand. “You won’t be any good if you fall over. Atzana’s sent for more food to come up to the Office. You missed dinner and you’re probably going to go late with this woman.”
He grinned at her, kissed her cheek and tore a bite out of the roll before pushing off to skate up to the Office.
Matthas was the only one in the trap booth, with his pens and his notebooks. “If she goes to claw me knock her out, hmmm?”
The Irefas man snorted. “Certainly, Imperator.
He wasn’t sure what to expect, though he’d been in Brahvniki and had seen Zak before. She came in with her hair half up, leaving a thick fall of it to her feet, Aitza long. She wore a high-collared shirt with bloused sleeves in white, with red, green, blue and gold embroidery on the deep cuffs and collar, bloused black silk trousers tucked into low soft black boots. She'd left off the heavily embroidered vest common to her people, because even so close past the Solstice it was hot in Arko.
She swept him a flourishing bow. “Imperator. I am Megan, called Vitlak, though the white has spread somewhat!” She indicated the wide band of white spreading from one side of her head over her crown. “You need someone who speaks Fehinnan?”
“Yes, please. Be welcome, Teik Vitlak. Please, sit. There is salt between us. Have you eaten?”
She sat, one eyebrow climbing. “You know Brahvniki, Imperator?”
“Just Minis, please,” he said settling down with his elbows on the desk, chin on his hands. “I was a scholar in the Great Library there for some days.”
“I see. Well, of course I share the salt with you. And if it’s ‘just Minis’ for me, then it’s ‘just Megan’ for you, hmmm?”
“Megan. Yes. So if you could tell me what you know of Fehinna?”
She nodded to herself, a trifle abruptly. “I was sold off to Fehinnan slavers more than a Great Hound’s years ago, got away in the Fehinnan Empire… at their main city of Illizbuah. I learned the language there, and met my wife there.”
“So you’ve seen their Empire from every angle then?”
“You might say so. They tend to meddle in everybody’s business, on a - how you say, cockroach level -- to keep any possible rivals off balance or weaken them. It’s the God-King’s policy.”
“Is that so? I’ve heard a thing or two about their God-King… being in the God-King business myself—“ she laughed at that. “—but he sounds more than a little odd. Do you know more about him?”
She looked pensive and tapped her nails on the desk, thinking. “I’ve been thinking, am, or were, all the way here how to explain this,” she said. “My wife, Shkai’ra, actually met his current body. Halya, she slept with his current body, before he moved in. That’s how he doesn’t die. He invented had a way of putting himself in someone else… with priest help and what they call the Waters of Knowing.”
“Wait… you mean it’s the same person moving from body to body? Stealing them?”
“Well, he’s set it up as a sacred ritual… a glorious sacrifice.”
It was Minis’s turn to be silent. Atzana tapped on the door and Antras wheeled in the dinner cart with a flourish. In silence he whipped the covers off the top trays, set a pair of finger bowls and towels on the presentation shelf, murmured ‘It has been tasted, Minis’ before taking himself off with a perfect bow that encompassed both of them.
“Please… help yourself,” he said, waving at the cart. “What you’ve just told me has unsettled my stomach somewhat. So… these sacrificial people… do they die? Where do they go? And how long has he been doing this?” He drank down half the water in his glass. She sat tight in her guest chair, looking at him intently.
“Eaten I have. Your so-efficient servant who met me saw that I had everything. Hmmm. To answer your last questions in order, being I. As far as anyone can tell they are still there… all of them, maybe? Who knows? He takes control, mostly. Sometimes if he’s doing something, his body will do something unrelated to what his mouth is saying. The priests say he’s from before the First Fire, living. Who knows for sure? Most people are not seeing him. He speaks through the High Priest most often, now. He… is caring less for this world, thinking like an Undying One as they call him. He’s now, how do you say it? Out-living his problems.”
Minis looked down at the Seals, his hands flat on the cool stone. “That… is tremendously disturbing.”